The future-shock of 1956 is close to today’s reality

The design of the new manufacturing facility capitalized on the surge in cell phones with built-in TV receivers. The facility was designed with Lean manufacturing in mind – no on-site storage for raw materials or finished products. The production rate is set by adjusting manufacturing automatically to meet consumer demand.
By Bob Vavra, Editor February 1, 2007

The design of the new manufacturing facility capitalized on the surge in cell phones with built-in TV receivers. The facility was designed with Lean manufacturing in mind %%MDASSML%% no on-site storage for raw materials or finished products. The production rate is set by adjusting manufacturing automatically to meet consumer demand. It is a Green building, with environmentally-friendly solar panels and heat-absorbing walls.

As its designer, architect A. Epstein said, “Our buildings are rapidly undergoing a metamorphosis from the static ‘roof-over-our-heads’ style structure to the dynamic plant of tomorrow.”

It sounds like what every manufacturing facility built today aspires to be. It was what Epstein and his dreamers thought a manufacturing facility could be when he first unveiled the ‘Plant of 2005 A.D.’ at the 7th Plant Maintenance and Engineering Show on Jan. 23, 1956. Plant Engineering magazine was the home for this innovative design when it debuted more than 50 years ago.

The designers got a few things wrong %%MDASSML%% and much to our chagrin. They envisioned a day when flying saucers would whisk workers to their jobs from as far away as 300 miles. They saw a reduction in the work week to four or five hours a day, with limited need for plant maintenance. Buildings would be constructed of non-oxidizing materials. “In the year 2005 A.D.,” the planners imagined, “the world will be a cleaner place in which to live.”

Yet look how much did they get right! Automated assembly %%MDASSML%% of video cell phones, no less %%MDASSML%% in a Lean environment with energy efficiency and high-speed production. Plant managers “will not be concerned, as today, with costs-per-unit of production but rather costs based on time of production at a given capacity rate,” they surmised.

And 50 years later, those issues still challenge today’s architects and engineers at Chicago-based A. Epstein and Sons International, Inc. “What I find interesting is that the big picture topics %%MDASSML%% energy, location, traffic and transportation %%MDASSML%% are the same today,” said John Patelski, executive managing director and president of the firm’s engineering and construction group.

Patelski sees the issues of today being a factor in the decisions made to design today’s manufacturing plant. “They talk about the cost and availability of skilled labor, the continuous need to integrate more technology,” he said.

Patelski sees a parallel between the work his firm started in 1955 and the work it is doing now. “There will need to be an improved internal work environment. We’ll need to reduce the cost of the plant to operate. We’ve seen that in a lot of office environments, and it’s migrating to the industrial sector. You’re going to see a lot of ‘smart’ buildings, high-speed wireless and a lot of I/O data that is responding to the environment.

Patelski sees one other change in the next generation of manufacturing facilities %%MDASSML%% and one that also harkens to the Cold War era of the 1950s. “The other thing that is somewhat of a reality is manufacturing facilities integrating disaster preparedness into the facility for natural disasters as well as terrorist attacks,” he said. “Security, UPS systems, sequencing of events for a shutdown, call lists at the facility will all be part of the plan.”

In many ways, the new manufacturing facility of tomorrow may not even be a new building. “Energy resources will drive costs, and materials will change,” Patelski said. “Well-positioned buildings will become important, and will be calling for adaptive reuse.”

Remember in 50 years %%MDASSML%% you read it first in Plant Engineering .

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