Automation in factories - History of Business in the U.S.
Definition: The substitution of machine power for human effort and attention
Significance: Factory automation has allowed companies to leverage their workers’ labor to increase productivity many thousandfold and to produce goods that could not be produced by traditional craft methods.
The automation of factories began with the application of mechanical power to replace human and animal muscular effort, particularly in heavy industry. Such devices as windmills and watermills can be traced back to classical antiquity, but they truly began to come of age during the late eighteenth century with the development of the steam engine.
The mercantilist policies of the British crown prevented the American colonies from developing their own industry, but after the Revolutionary War, northern business leaders began to develop their own textile and other industries, helped by protectionist tariffs that made it difficult for the cheap goods of industrialized Britain to compete. Soon cities such as Lowell, Massachusetts, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, were dark with the smoke generated by the thousands of power-driven textile and steel mills.
The development of machine tools for the forming and shaping of various components in large numbers led to various mechanical controls that permitted manufacturers to reach far finer tolerances in their parts than had been possible by depending on human senses. Throughout the nineteenth century and the first part of the twentieth, industry continually improved on these control systems, at first with mechanical controllers and later with electromechanical ones.
- Colestock, Harry. Industrial Robotics: Selection, Design, and Maintenance. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2005. Practical information on robot designs commonly used in industry.
- Espejo, Roman, ed. What Is the Impact of Automation? Detroit: Greenhaven, 2008. A collection of essays on automation that examine its effects on labor, particularly manufacturing jobs, and its application in farming, health care, and smart homes for the elderly.
- Hodges, Bernard. Industrial Robots. Oxford, England: Newnes, 1992. Focuses on the development of the industrial robot, although it does note earlier automation efforts.
- Ichiban, Daniel. Robots: From Scence Fiction to Technological Revolution.NewYork: Henry Abrams, 2005. General history of robotics from its literary roots to the factory floor.
- Reid, T. R. The Chip: How Two Americans Invented the Microchip and Launched a Revolution. New York: Random House, 2001. A basic history of the development of the microchip, critical to the development of modern robotics.