Manufacturing evolved constantly during the 20th century, through two World Wars, the Depression, several recessions, and all types of other conflicts. At the beginning of the century, factories everywhere were using belt-driven machines to turn out parts. Within just 20 years, however, plants were using electrically operated machine tools and manufacturing to turn out products for the fledgling automotive and aircraft sectors.
By the 1950s, the U.S. was a world power thanks to its manufacturing base. Incredible changes were ushered into machine shops during the second half of the 20th century, mainly brought about by the emergence of numerical control. Through the rest of the decade, manufacturers had access to machines that boosted productivity to unprecedented levels. And as computers took hold, they had even more tools at their disposal — everything from computer-controlled, five-axis machining centers to computer-aided design and manufacturing software.
Today, machine shops have tools their counterparts in 1900 could not even imagine. The manager of a jobshop can now receive a customer's e-mailed print, download the CAD file to a five-axis machining center, push a button to have the machine run the job, and leave for the night, checking on the machine's progress from his home, using the Internet.
But for all the modern marvels we now have at our disposal, manufacturing hasn't changed that much in 100 years. People still have to get the job done right, on-time, and at a low cost. Productivity still matters.
Maybe that's why it is interesting to look back. So, in addition to our IMTS coverage, AMERICAN MACHINIST is also taking a journey through the 20th century. What follows are some of the companies, the technologies, and the innovators that contributed to making manufacturing what it is today. We hope you enjoy the trip.