In 1912, Practical Engineer helped plant managers improve

While 2007 is the 60th anniversary of Plant Engineering magazine, it’s not as if the idea of publishing a practical periodical guide for the plant engineer was invented in 1947. Plant Engineering was founded by Kingsley L. Rice, president of the Technical Publishing Company of Chicago. Technical Publishing’s history in manufacturing publishing dates back to 1896, when the first issu...


While 2007 is the 60th anniversary of Plant Engineering magazine, it’s not as if the idea of publishing a practical periodical guide for the plant engineer was invented in 1947. Plant Engineering was founded by Kingsley L. Rice, president of the Technical Publishing Company of Chicago. Technical Publishing’s history in manufacturing publishing dates back to 1896, when the first issue of Practical Engineer made its debut.

A 1912 volume of Practical Engineer still resides in our offices. It demonstrates how the need to keep plant engineers up to date on the latest trends and strategies has been a constant %%MDASSML%% even as manufacturing changed over parts of three centuries.

In 1912’s first issue, the editor’s note was headlined, “Using Cheaper Fuels.” The fuel in question was coal, and the issue of fuel shortage was much in evidence, as was the concern over market price manipulation. “We have heard much of the extortion of the 'coal barons’ and of the arbitrary prices fixed by them, but the investigation of conditions made by the U.S. Geological Survey holds out no hope of lower prices in the future,” the editorial read. Substitute 'oil’ for 'coal’ and that sentence could well have been written today.

Practical Engineer lived up to its name. There are detailed stories on issues such as electric motor control, steam traps, air compressors and safety. What we call “Tips & Tricks” today was called “Successful Kinks,” offering readers a chance to explain how they solved ongoing plant floor problems. There was a good deal of give and take among plant engineers in those days. Questions are routinely answered by editorial and industry experts. Readers also posed their plant floor problems for response from other engineers. It lacked the speed of the Internet, but it featured detailed drawing and calculations (made with a slide rule).

And the ingenuity of the time was timeless, as demonstrated by Mr. J. O. Olson: “In order to make some room for some new work, a 1-in. pipe used as a drain on a separator in the 10-in. high-pressure steam line had to be disconnected between its valve and the separators. There was no way of shutting steam off the 1-in. pipe except by shutting off the 10-in. line which supplies all the generating units in the plant. There was a valve at the end of the drain pipe. I closed it in order to let the pipe fill with water. I then took a piece of 5-in. pipe covering 3 ft. long and put it around the 1-in pipe just above the place where I wished to disconnect it.”

After that was done, Mr. Olson filled the pipe sleeve with salt and ice, freezing the water inside the main steam pipe. Mr. Olson reported the water dropped from 100F to -5F in about three hours. The ice acted as a block for the steam while still keeping steam flowing to the rest of the plant. In quick work the pipe was cut and the new valve was installed while the pipe was kept frozen. Then the ice was removed, the ice block thawed and the plant kept running without interruption.

Of course, there are some issues that span time and function, such as noted in this editorial on Oct. 15, 1912 on the subject of accurate record-keeping at smaller plants: “It means self-protection to the engineer, and intelligent records that show definitely the cost of producing power will make the boss sit up and take notice,” the editorial stated. “Without records of a plant in operation, there is no means of combating the claims of the central station solicitor, and he is much more liable to gain his point where there is nothing to show the cost of the private plant’s operation.”

In 1912 %%MDASSML%% as in 1947, and as today with PLANT ENGINEERING %%MDASSML%% the plant manager had on hand a reliable, independent source that would steer him to a better way to run a manufacturing plant.

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Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

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