Mankind has always manufactured things, but it is only in the relatively recent past that we have done so on a large scale. In fact, it is thought that the very first factory arrived as recently as 1761 in the form of Matthew Boulton’s Soho Manufactury in Birmingham.
Whether that is correct or not – or whether some other business has a claim – is irrelevant really, because the major change came with the Industrial Revolution. This, of course, was centred on the United Kingdom and on the North-West in particular where textile mills were common. These had previously relied on pure manpower for production, but technological advancements brought machinery to speed efforts and it was not long before Manchester became known as ‘Cottonopolis’ for the sheer number of factories in the area.
An increased use of steam power led to even more manufacturing machinery being developed and coal mining supported the nation’s fuel needs. The increase in the number of factories also led to the modern city, where many people live within just a few miles of large centres of employment. Most of the major cities in Britain either came about or grew enormously during the Industrial Revolution.
Industrial technology had an impact in other, less obvious ways as well. The ability to print rapidly and in great volume meant a huge increase in the availability of books and newspapers, which changed society considerably. Standards of literacy improved and political involvement increased as a result.
Since near the start of the 20th Century, factories have developed further as a result of the availability of electrical power and this has been further exploited through Henry Ford’s mass production innovations. Nowadays, almost every product we purchase has been mass produced and the efficiency of such systems means goods that were previously out of most people’s reach are now commonplace.
Factory technology continues to move on. Sensors and computer software mean that the human role is decreasingly significant. Engineers are needed to monitor machinery, but the human contribution is largely supervisory. Robots can work without error through day and night and there are likely to be more developments yet. Nanotechnology brings with it a host of possibilities and the technology we already possess is forever being refined.
A factory may seem like a functional, prosaic thing, but it has changed the world in which we live. Without factories, we would lack the free time that has led to a host of other developments. In short, modern life depends on them.
Mandy Weinstein shares her knowledge on stainless steel ball valves – www.alphacontrols.co.uk