Seven Manufacturing Innovations

Globally, manufacturing continues to grow – and accounts for approximately 16% of global GDP and 14% of employment. With over 30 year of adapting to the changes in  the workplace, our friends at Silverline  understand the importance of manufacturing all too well. Here are seven great innovations with manufacturing at their heart…


1. The Printing Press

Most people attribute Johannes Gutenberg with the invention of the printing press – but he actually built on the work of others, starting with their existing tools and devices, which he modified, refined  and perfected to suit his purpose. However, his achievements are still monumental. They are rooted in his ability to combine various mechanical elements into an economical, practical product. Gutenberg invented the adjustable mold, which allowed the person casting metal type to adjust the width, enabling a narrow or a wide character to be locked in preparation for casting. This meant that an artisan could replicate a given character many  thousands of times. It also established the principle, three centuries before it was widely adopted by  industry, of interchangeable parts – the basis of modern mass-produced printed products.

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2. Portland Cement
Where would we be without concrete? In 1824 a bricklayer called Joseph Aspdin devised and patented a process for making Portland Cement (the most common source of cement in use today). The process involved heating a mixture of clay and limestone to around 1,400 degree centigrade. This then needed to be ground into a fine powder only to be later mixed with sand and gravel to make concrete. It is seen by many as one of the great inventions of the Industrial Revolution.

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3. Modern Roads
Over 300 years ago turnpike trusts were established in an attempt to improve roads and make some money. By the end of the 1750s almost every road in England and Wales was the responsibility of a turnpike trust. Stage right, John Loudon McAdam. Having made his fortune in the US, he bought an estate in Ayrshire. Noting the roads were in poor condition, he undertook a series of experiments in road making, at his own expense. Later, with Government support, he set out a series of innovations that are still used today. Notably, that roads should be raised above the adjacent ground for good drainage and that the make-up of the road should be a series of large rocks, then smaller stones, with the whole mass bound with fine gravel or slag. 

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4. The First Factory
For many, the first modern factory was opened in Derby in 1721 by John Lombe. Powered by water mass, manufacturing of silk products was the order of the day. Inspired from his trips to Italy, Lombe created the factory on an island on the River Derwent. Using the services of renowned engineer, George Sorocold, he created his new factory that, at its height, employed 300 people and was believed to be the first fully mechanised factory in the world. 

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5. The Tin Can
In 1810, Peter Durand patented the use of tin-coated iron ‘Food Can’ or canning. It has had an incalculable impact on food preservation and transportation right up to the present day. John Hall and Bryan Dorkin opened the very first commercial canning factory in England in 1813. In 1846, Henry Evans invented the machine that can manufacture tin cans at a rate of 60 per hour – up from a measly six per hour.

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6. Matches
In 1816 Francois Derosne created a sulphur-tipped match to scrap inside a phosphorus-coated tube – which proved all too unsafe. John Walker, a chemist from Stockton-on-Tees, sought to make the process of making fire easier. The process of ignition was known, of course, but what he did was create a means of transmitting the flame to a slow-burning material like wood. Also, like many inventions, the good fortune of seeing a match ignited by accident in the hearth gave him all he needed.   

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7. The Blueprint
John Herschel was an astronomer who was keen to find a way of copying his notes. In 1842, he perfected the cyanotype process (also known as the blueprint process). Herschel managed to fix pictures using hyposulphite of soda as early as 1839. In these early days, the paper was coated with iron salts and then used in contact printing. The paper was then washed in water, which resulted in a white image on a deep blue background. Apart from the cyanotype process, Herschel also gave us the words photography, negative, positive and snapshot. The cyanotype process has remained virtually unchanged since its invention.