Plant Engineering at 70

Taking a look back at the last 70 years of Plant Engineering. In retrospect, it is easy to see that even as technology changes, the same challenges remain.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, Plant Engineering November 17, 2017

Lt. Col. Richard H. Morris never imagined the proliferation of robotics or the concept of cloud computing in manufacturing. The iPad didn’t exist; neither did the autonomous guided vehicle.

And yet, Mr. Morris, the first editor of Plant Engineering when it debuted in November 1947, set a clear path for what this publication would accomplish. In that inaugural issue, he wrote:

Plant Engineering will be a practical magazine in that it will be edited to help the plant engineer with his everyday problems. The articles will be understandable and aimed at helping the engineer do his job better.”

As Plant Engineering celebrates its 70th anniversary this month, it’s important to see how much today’s publication has in common with our predecessors: Look at the topics we covered:

  • Material handling.
  • Maintaining motors and generators.
  • How to choose the right valve and install it.
  • Troubleshooting in pneumatic tube systems.
  • Industrial steam package units.

There was an extensive section of new products. There also was an article on the proper maintenance of public address systems in plants. That may seem a tad arcane today, but remember: that was important to the plant engineering professional in 1947.

Perhaps that is the common thread between then and now—despite the changes in technology, the improvements in operations, the global reach of manufacturing, and a fundamental change in almost every aspect of manufacturing, the role of the plant engineer has remained remarkably the same as was outlined in that first issue. The role of Plant Engineering also remains the same: to help our readers do their jobs better.

Our business has changed as well. We print in color on glossy magazine stock and we distribute the magazine with remarkable speed today. Our publishing cycle has gone from month-to-month to minute-to-minute. We can reach readers in seconds through our website and through social media, and readers reach back to us just as quickly. That first Plant Engineering had a circulation of about 28,000; today, our audience reach is more than 360,000 people each month, and our content is accessed in 192 countries.

We’re justifiably proud of our status in the market as the most respected source for plant-level solutions. We are respectful of the trust the audience places in us each month, and we continue to work to fulfill that vision that Mr. Morris and his team created 70 years ago.

The accumulated wisdom that Plant Engineering’s writers and editors have compiled over those seven decades has had an impact on this industry. We know we have contributed to manufacturing’s growth and development as a major driver of economic and social growth. Manufacturing remains the bedrock on which the United States economy is built. American innovation and productivity remains the envy of the world.

While the fundamental needs of Plant Engineering’s audience haven’t changed in the past 70 years, the tools they use to affect manufacturing productivity continue to evolve. Clipboards and calendars have been replaced with portable HMIs and sensors. The worker continues to evolve as well, and the skills we need to develop in a multi-generational, multi-lingual, and multi-gender workplace are a bigger challenge today than before.

While it’s important to remember that Plant Engineering was created just two years after the end of World War II, it’s also worth noting that today’s manufacturing is more challenging than it was 70 years ago. However, It’s probably fair to say that the first Plant Engineering staff probably regarded the changes that already had occurred in post-war manufacturing and came to pretty much the same conclusion.

So much is different after 70 years, but in reality, so much more is the same. The need for efficient manufacturing never changes. The need to operate safely and productively is still important. The technology of engineering continues to evolve, and it is the plant personnel—the plant engineer, the plant manager, the operations and maintenance teams—who must evolve and grow along with the changes.

That’s the way it was 70 years ago when Plant Engineering first appeared on the scene. It’s the way it remains today. As we look toward the future, we share Richard Morris’ vision for our publication and yet we barely can imagine the next evolution of information delivery that awaits the Plant Engineering editor 70 years from now.  

Bob Vavra is the Content Manager for Plant Engineering at CFE Media.