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.


Plant Engineering looks back on the past 70 years.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.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
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.
February 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
March 2018
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
Jan/Feb 2018
Welding ergonomics, 2017 Salary Survey, and surge protection
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
December 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards
December 2017
PID controllers, Solar-powered SCADA, Using 80 GHz radar sensors

Annual Salary Survey

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

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Industrial Analytics
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
IIoT: Operations & IT
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me