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Manufacturing, Milestones and the Monumental Task Before Us

March 17, 2020
For this golden anniversary of IndustryWeek, we are taking a look back at 50 years of progress in manufacturing and sharing our vision of the progress yet to come.

“Whenever monumental tasks are undertaken and vast expenditures required, tremendous markets—and profit potentials—result.”

With these words, published on Jan. 5, 1970, editor Walter J. Campbell officially launched the IndustryWeek experiment. It is a peculiar sentence, and one I have spent an inordinate amount of time considering over my years here—both in terms of what it meant for manufacturing in Campbell’s era and what it means for IndustryWeek today. Over time, I’ve come to believe the meanings are fundamentally joined.

Coming into 1970, Campbell had been leading a 40-year-old brand called Steel, which had been formed from a 48-year-old-magazine called Iron Review. Together, that represented 88 years of success, stretching all the way back to 1882, specializing in niche metal industries and all the wonderous complications of commodity pricing. But then Campbell and his publishers made a sudden switch, abandoning the safe confines of a traditional market to found a new publication focused on the broadest of subjects possible: manufacturing leadership. It was a wild departure from the industry into a great unknown and unexplored territory, rife with risk and uncertainty. I suppose that counts as a monumental task. But I don’t think that’s quite what Campbell meant.

Campbell’s were days of powerful change—the Greatest Generation was leaving the workforce while computers and technology were coming in, tax schemes were changing, political unrest was boiling and “radical young people” no longer seemed to want anything to do with the manufacturing industry. It was a time of revolution, of transformation—a crossroads in the industry. Either U.S. manufacturers would invest in the right tools, adapt to the changing world and learn to attract and retain its “bright young people,” as Campbell put it, or it would lose its standing in the global economy.

Which is to say, it was a time remarkably like ours today. And, like us, I believe Campbell saw these challenges as a monumental task before him—the rebirth of an industry into a new age full of disruption, one that would give us OSHA and the rise of safety culture, lean and the rise of continuous improvement and, eventually, digitalization, the Internet of Things and all the industrialized technological wizardry of 2020.

That's a monumental task indeed, from which tremendous markets and outlandish profits have resulted. And through it all, IndustryWeek has been here to tell the stories—to record the missteps and celebrate the victories, to help leaders shape their strategies for 50 solid years. That is the legacy Campbell left us—our own monumental task working in step with the task of the manufacturing industry as a whole.

On this milestone, it’s tempting to just look back at this legacy and all the changes and revolutions we and manufacturing have experienced over the past 50 years. If nothing else, this would offer us a handy yardstick to measure our progress. But I think that’s only just the start. I see this golden anniversary as an opportunity to not just look back at where we’ve been, but to also look ahead to where all of this momentum and all of this work is taking us next.

To do so, I have recruited a gang of former IndustryWeek leaders and editors—one of whom has a perspective that extends all the way back to the late days of Steel and the birth of IW, and all of them friends, colleagues and mentors through the years—to help us tell the hardest of stories: where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we’re going next.

Here is the first of these stories, from former IW chief, John Brandt: Bye, Bye Big Daddy

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