Fifty Years of Manufacturing Innovation

Dec. 11, 2008
John Teresko, Sr. Editor at IndustryWeek, starting working at the magazine in 1958 when Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States.

Editor's Note: In 1958, Dwight D. Eisenhower was President of the United States; Alaska was admitted to the Union; the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1, was launched; "Gunsmoke" was the most popular TV show; and John Teresko joined the staff of Steel, predecessor to IndustryWeek. For the past 50 years, in his role of senior technology editor, John has been in the vanguard of the business press in his reporting on manufacturing technology and trends that not only have made for great articles, but in fact have had a major and lasting influence on the entire industry. John has won numerous editorial awards over the years, but his most enduring legacy will be the careers of the many reporters he's helped inspire throughout his five decades on the job.

While John is not the type to rest on his laurels, we've asked him to reflect over the past half-century on some of the notable events in the manufacturing industry.

My half-century of focusing on manufacturing technology and innovation started on Dec. 8, 1958. The journey began with Steel, a Penton metalworking weekly that became IndustryWeek in 1970.

What helped motivate Steel's transition to IndustryWeek was the rapidly developing computer revolution that continues to rewrite all aspects of manufacturing and information technology. The result: new standards of performance throughout all of society whether in computerized manufacturing and business management or just everyday social interaction via the Web.

IndustryWeek's mission became one of helping leaders adopt and maximize the newest and most appropriate means of winning in the marketplace using the new standards of competitiveness advanced by computers, information technology and the Internet. In terms of marking the historic watersheds of civilizations, analysts wasted no time in comparing the impact of computers with that of mass production.

The transition to the new tools facilitated all adopters whether they were the magazine's editors moving from typewriters to personal computers or an automotive company making the process control transition from hard-wired relay systems to PLCs (programmable logic controllers). Ease of change or revision is the issue in both cases. At the auto companies PLCs were initially adopted so that software revision could replace the rewiring of hard-wired control panels at model changeover times. Similarly, computer technology has brought speed to both magazine layout and product design -- the latter via CAD/CAM software. Today, computer technology has given us smart machines, but the word is still out on editors!

Although the revolutionary computer-based concepts have been permeating the entirety of manufacturing throughout the past 50 years, it wasn't until the 1990s that U.S. manufacturing began realizing that a missing key ingredient was blocking the full potential of the technology. That was the year when James P. Womack, Daniel T. Jones and Daniel Roos wrote The Machine That Changed the World, which detailed how Japanese automakers, and Toyota in particular, were making a strong showing by applying the principles of lean production -- an approach that came to be known as the Toyota Production System.

At that time, however, the principles of lean production were unproven and they had not been applied outside the auto industry. Today, the power of lean production has been conclusively proved by Toyota's unparalleled manufacturing success, and the concepts have been widely applied in many businesses, including services.

What is lean production? As defined by The Machine That Changed the World, lean production is lean because it uses less of everything than mass production. Examples include "half the manufacturing space, half the human effort in the factory, half the investment in tools and half the engineering hours to develop a product in half the time. Also it involves keeping far less than the needed inventory on site, results in many fewer defects, and produces a greater and growing variety of products." And in terms of leveraging the computer revolution, lean production wins because its ultimate goal is perfection of implementation. Thus it is easy to appreciate why both the computer revolution and lean production continue to be important themes to the IW audience.

Those are some of the highlights of my first 50 years here at IW. Maybe the next 50 years will be easier.

Sponsored Recommendations

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of IndustryWeek, create an account today!