Manufacturing executives these days are faced with a substantial style of promising new technology, starting from artificial intelligence to linked equipment to 3D printing, they all offering some combination of cost savings, satisfactory upgrades, and elevated flexibility. It is tempting to suppose that a producer ought to modernize itself without a doubt via changing its vintage strategies with new ones that function that technology. But the historic file suggests that isn’t enough.

As we describe in our paper The Digital Factory Report, we are able to turn for an analogy to the past due 19th century, when managers rushed to electrify their factories. Electrification regarded like an obvious productivity raise, however, it failed to produce any terrific profits for more than 3 a long time. Just earlier than 1920, that began to exchange; gains from electrification multiplied, and it accounted for half of-of all productiveness growth in production for the duration of the 1920s.
The electrification lag


The Stanford economist Paul David defined the lag among the advent of electrification and its impact on productiveness in his traditional 1990 paper The Dynamo and the Computer. The trouble, he discovered, was that managers at first certainly overlaid “one technical machine upon a preexisting stratum”. Factories of the overdue 19th century used “institution drive” structures, with a waterwheel or steam engine driving massive agencies of machines thru systems of pulleys and belts. In the first wave of electrification, managers absolutely replaced the vintage strength sources with new electric powered automobiles, which continued to pressure huge groups of machines thru those pulley structures. They loved modest value savings on gasoline, in addition, to barely improved manipulate, but their factories endured to function precisely as before.

New technology of factories inside the early twentieth century started to apply electrification in another way. Rather than installing centralized vehicles that drove machines through rotating shafts, they commenced using “unit drive”, in which a single electric motor is established in every gadget, riding it independently. The benefits of electrification turned out to be profound in ways that early electrifiers hadn’t imagined.

Because institution-power shafts lost electricity to friction speedy over distance, early factories were organized around the transmission of electricity in place of the glide of labor and items. They had to be compact to maintain machines close to electricity sources, and any reorganization became a bulky manner.

By comparison, the 1920s and Nineteen Thirties noticed the beginning of factories that we would understand as almost cutting-edge. Without organization-drive shafts bolted to their ceilings, factories may be vivid, ethereal centers with green unmarried-ground layouts that could be rearranged quickly in reaction to marketplace needs. Electrification modified manufacturing, but best after managers became willing to remodel their complete businesses around the essential capabilities of electric machinery.

Factories that used group-drive structures (top) were prepared around the float of power via rotating shafts and belts. They had been risky, inefficient, and rigid. The contemporary factory (bottom) emerged inside the Nineteen Twenties, whilst a new generation of factory managers constructed vegetation with man or woman electric vehicles in each device. The ensuing facilities have been vibrant, green, and bendy, with layouts that pondered the go with the flow of substances and hard work, free from the restrictions of mechanical electricity transport.
Does now not compute

Paul David wrote his evaluation in the course of a length when economists faced some other productivity paradox: computers had emerged as ubiquitous, and it seemed obvious that they must boost productivity, however, those profits hadn’t materialized. (“You can see the pc age anywhere but in the productiveness statistics,” the economist Robert Solow quipped in 1987.)

Businesses first truly moved character capabilities – like payroll, inventory management, and accounting – to computers. This led to some modest efficiency upgrades, but it changed into hardly ever a revolution. The actual gains could be found out not from saving touch cash on file-keeping, however by reorganizing complete businesses and industries round computer systems. Indeed, from the mid-Nineteen Nineties onward we’ve seen the upward push of a whole era of valuable companies that invented new, fundamentally digital business models around computers and networking.

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