In a tumultuous year, a call to action for plant engineers

William Rothfelder, the commercial research division manager for Inland Steel, sounded disheartened when looking at the global market for his product: “Our industry is doing all it can, including investing huge amounts of capital, to cope with the import problem,” he said. “And we are fighting a losing battle unless we get help from the government.


William Rothfelder, the commercial research division manager for Inland Steel, sounded disheartened when looking at the global market for his product:

“Our industry is doing all it can, including investing huge amounts of capital, to cope with the import problem,” he said. “And we are fighting a losing battle unless we get help from the government. There are well-documented reasons for our predicament, such as surplus world steel capacity, lower foreign labor costs and dumping.”

And then there was this from management consultant Jerome Barnum: “Computers can become devices to allow us to make the same old mistakes, but we can do it faster,” he said “Top executives get enamored with the hardware and too often forget all that they have bought or rented is a tool and this has to be used by human beings.”

These are considered solid manufacturing observations in 2007. In 1968, when these words first appeared in PLANT ENGINEERING magazine, they were visionary. They are still applicable today.

The year 1968 was among the most tumultuous in American history. Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated within four months of each other. War protestors rioted in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention. A new counterculture was rising out of the unrest.

When you look back at that time in the pages of PLANT ENGINEERING , however, the manufacturing work and the challenges plant managers faced haven’t changed that much. The technology is different; but the work goes on.

Take Western Electric’s decision to build a new cable plant in Phoenix. Their problem: the local supply of skilled labor was inadequate. “Here was a challenge which required a new approach: Set up a training program for a combination machinist and machine repairman during the construction of a new plant,” said V.C. Bond of Western Electric in the August 8, 1968 issue.

That’s a strategy now in common practice, especially in companies adding new production lines or new manufacturing processes.

The issues discussed in the Oct. 31, 1968 issue of PLANT ENGINEERING are pointed at the same kind of issues faced today: efficiency, productivity and planning. The cover feature talked about how the plant engineering function had been decentralized at Armstrong Cork Co.’s Lancaster, PA plant. Today that business is Armstrong World Industries, makers of flooring and tile products.

Other features included a look at the importance of active planning in maintenance scheduling, the idea that pre-heating fuel oil can increase combustion efficiency, a look at linear motor bearings and targeting elevator maintenance programs at plant profitability.

Maintenance editor Ralph Jansen concluded the year in December by noting another familiar problem we face yet today: labor shortages. “At least 75,000 new maintenance employees will be needed next year in the mechanical trades alone. Of this number, more than 56,000 will have no previous maintenance training whatsoever,” Jansen wrote. “If your company encourages or permits training on the job, you are halfway home. If not, it’s time to take a stand.”

Encouraging readers to act on what they read has always been a recurring theme of the magazine %%MDASSML%% never more so at this juncture. As Dr. Charles F. Jones, president of Humble Oil (today, part of ExxonMobil) noted at the time, “I am convinced if our formidable urban and other large-scale social problems are to be solved enduringly and with the most effective utilization of our limited financial resources, the engineer must reassert his capabilities in a leading rather than a supporting role.”

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

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