Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Industrial Progress Needs Wise co-ordination and balance between technical, commercial, and human considerations - Going Industrial Engineering

The point is very important, because true and stable in-
dustrial progress, whether for the individual, the manufac-
turing plant or corporation, or the nation at large, depends
upon a wise co-ordination and balance between technical,
commercial, and human considerations. It is frequently
necessary in addressing a commercial audience to empha-
size the importance of the technical element. Before a
technical audience, on the other hand, emphasis must often
be laid on the commercial and psychological factors that in
practical achievement must always be interwoven with the
technical factor. Every great industrial organization and
every great step in industrial progress to-day includes all
three elements, but they will perhaps appear more distinct
if we look at the origin and source of the manufacturing sys-
tem, out of which this new science of industry has sprung.
The origin of the manufacturing system was clearly enough
the introduction of a group of inventions that came in close
sequence about the end of the eighteenth century and be-
ginning of the nineteenth. These were the steam engine,
mechanical spinning and weaving machinery, the steamboat,
the locomotive, and the machine-tool. It is commonly as-
sumed that the great cause of the entire movement was
Watt's improvement of the steam engine that the indus-
trial era which began a little more than a century ago was,
so to speak, waiting in suspense, in the hush of things un-
born, ready to leap into being as soon as the prime mover
had been perfected to a point of practical service.

This view seems to be incomplete. The steam engine
had been discovered, forgotten, and rediscovered, it would
be difficult to say how often, from the time of Hero or
earlier down to the time of Watt forgotten and ignored
because the world had no use for it ; the economic conditions
were not ripe for it. If there had been the same demand
for power to pump the mines in England, the same demand
for machinery in the textile industries of England, the same
need for better vehicles to transport commercial products by
land and by sea, in the time of Papin or the Marquis of
Worcester that there was in the time of Watt, I think it is
quite conceivable that the inventions which made Watt fa-
mous would have come a full century earlier, and his genius
would have been exerted upon a later stage of the problem,
as the genius of Willans and Corliss and Parsons and Curtis
has been within the period of our own lives.

I am strongly inclined to believe that the world has al-
ways had something near the quality and quantity of en-
gineering talent it has been able to use. When civilization
was dependent chiefly upon roads, aqueducts, bridges and
buildings, it got them. We have never done some of these
things better, technically speaking, than the Assyrians, or
the Romans, or the architects of the great cathedrals of the
middle ages; some, indeed, we perhaps never shall do again
as well. Newcomen, Watt, Arkwright, Stephenson, Besse-
mer, applied genius to a new sort of opportunity, rather than
embodied in themselves a new order of genius. They may
indeed have been greater than other workers who preceded
them, but the more important element in their success is that
the world was at last ready and waiting as it never had been
before for the peculiar product of genius they had to offer.
This readiness that opened the door to their success was due
to economic or commercial conditions, not merely to the
technical invention. In its larger relations, then, technical
success depends upon commercial opportunity. There must
be a potential market. Bessemer steel could not have found
any welcome in the Stone Age. The typewriter would not
have succeeded in the dark ages when no one but a few
clerics could read and write. Savages who traded cocoa-
nuts for beads and brass wire could afford no encouragement
to the manufacturer of the cash register or the adding ma-
chine. It was not because of thermodynamic inefficiency
that Hero's engine failed of adoption. On the other hand,
when the world was ready for steam power it accepted very
gladly to begin with a very crude machine, and technical im-

provement went step by step with larger practical utilization,
sometimes leading and sometimes following. There must,
then, be a potential market or application, or advance in the
applied sciences will be limited. This is an axiom to be
placed alongside of another that there must be scientific
study and research, or industries based upon the applica-
tions of science will stagnate and remain at a low stage of

The second factor in industrial progress, then, is the com-
mercial factor. There must be a potential market; but it
does not follow from this that technical progress is wholly
subordinate to economic conditions. The inventor or the
engineer is not of necessity merely a follower of progress in
commerce or industry. Many of the great advances in ap-
plied science, or in branches of industrial achievement per-
haps too lowly to be called applied science, have been made
by man who foresaw not only technical possibilities but
commercial possibilities who undertook not only to per-
fect the invention but to show the world the advantage of
using it. I think this was substantially the case with wire-
less telegraphy, with the cash register and typewriter. No-
body had demanded these things because nobody had thought
of them, and the productive act in each instance included
not only technical insight into the possibilities of doing the
thing, but human insight into the fact that people would ap-"
preciate these things and use them if they could be furnished
at or below a certain cost. Modern industrial methods have
shown us that in many cases there is no such thing as a fixed
demand beyond which supply can not be absorbed, but that
demand is a function of cost of production. There may be
no demand at all for an article costing a dollar, but an al-
most unlimited demand for the same article if it can be sold
at five cents. A large part of the work of the production
engineer lies in the creation of methods by which the cost of

production is decreased and the volume of production is
thereby increased, with advantages to both the producer and
the consumer.

In all these cases you see that technical achievement, tech-
nical success, is closely interlocked with industrial or eco-
nomic conditions, and with the understanding and control of
industrial or economic influences and forces.

The third factor in industrial progress is the psychological
factor the element contributed by the mental attitude,
emotions, or passions of men. I might suggest its possible
importance by reminding you that there were centuries in
which the inventor of the steam engine, far from being re-
warded, would have been burned at the stake as a magi-
cian. This would not have been because the extraordinary
character of the achievement was unrecognized, but because
its nature was misinterpreted. That particular form of ex-
pressing intellectual dissent has gone out of date. We are
much more civilized now, and nineteenth- or twentieth-cen-
tury inventors who are far ahead of their times are no longer
burned; they are merely allowed to starve to death; while
those who are timely, but not commercially shrewd, are us-
ually swindled by some promoter, who in turn is frozen out
by a trust. In any case, you see, the simple technician gets
the worst of it industrially, not because his physical science
is weak, but because his commercial and mental shrewdness
is not correspondingly developed.

Taking a larger view of it, we shall see that almost every
important advance in engineering progress is made only after
a period of pause, an interval following proof of the tech-
nical achievement, following even demonstration of its com-
mercial economy. We might call this the psychological lag
the time necessary for the growth of human faith suf-
ficient to energize an industrial movement. In the case of
the electric railway, or the motor vehicle, for example, this
lag was measured by years. Bessemer could not convince
the ironmasters of England, and had to build his own plant.
Westinghouse, having gained after much difficulty an audi-
ence with the greatest railroad manager of that day, was
told that this practical railroad man had no time to waste
on a damn fool who expected to stop railroad trains with
wind. The matter deserves emphasis because it is almost
certain to enter into the individual experience of every man.
You will have to make someone believe you, and believe in
you, before you can get anywhere or do anything. When a
technical man has a proposition to put before an individual,
or a group of individuals, or society at large, he is very
likely to think that scientific demonstration of its technical
soundness ought to be convincing. You will find, however,
that men at large will substantially ignore scientific proof,
and that you must add to it, second, proof of the commer-
cial or economic argument, and third, that psychological
force which convinces not the reason, but the emotions. In
all industrial engineering, which involves dealing with men,
this psychological or human element is of immense, even
controlling importance. The principles of the science are
absolute, scientific, eternal. But methods, when we are
dealing with men, must recognize the personal equation
(which is psychologic) or failure will follow. The differ-
ences between the several philosophies of works management
as expressed in the wage systems which we are going to con-
sider later are psychological. Success in handling men and
women, which is one of the most important parts of the
work of the industrial engineer, is founded on knowledge
of human nature, which is psychology.

The great industrial movement, then, with which we have
to do is triune in its nature, the three chief elements being
the technical or scientific, the economic or commercial, and
the psychological or human. They seldom respond at equal
rates to the impetus of advance. Sometimes the technician
pushes so far ahead that the world loses touch with what he
is doing and his work lies long unused until civilization
catches up; sometimes the commercial tendency is unduly
aggressive, and discourages or impedes real scientific achieve-
ment; very often the men most concerned with the indus-
trial activities go badly wrong in their philosophy, and get
disastrously false notions as to what makes for real progress
and real welfare. More difficulties, perhaps, come from this
cause than from any other.

To the technical man, it is an ever-present duty to keep in
view absolute ideals, to seek every chance for their advance-
ment, and to mould conditions and men so as to obtain con-
stantly nearer approach to these ideals; but in doing this he
must never forget to attach full weight to economic condi-
tions, and he must never allow himself to ignore human na-

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