My books on manufacturing

My books on manufacturing
My books on manufacturing history
Showing posts with label Rolls-Royce. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rolls-Royce. Show all posts

Saturday, April 6, 2024

Who else shaped the Manufacturing World - The American System of Manufacturing

 Continuing my quest to discover who else shaped the manufacturing world, not unreasonably, I turn to America. 

An entry in the Oxford reference book is clear that America had a system of manufacturing that put it well ahead of other manufacturing nations. An academic article is more cautious looking at the American manufacturing system in the context of four products: guns, wooden timepieces, watches and axes. The system, in short, was to have interchangeable parts which could be machine made in bulk and then put together in the final product, the key being that all this could be done by unskilled workers. The article highlights one drawback that more time is needed for adjustment as interchangeable parts in practice don’t fit perfectly. Nonetheless, there it seems is the ‘system’.

The story of American manufacturing picks up from the accounts of the early settlements where the imperative was to secure food and shelter. Rebecca Fraser’s account of the Mayflower Generation focuses on the struggles with ill-health and the uninviting natural environment; relations with the native population were then not hostile. In time hostility grew as the native Indians took exception to the approach of some settlers. A third imperative was thus security.

As population increased and the infrastructure of society developed, American found itself as an exporter of agricultural produce not least tobacco, sugar and cotton. Imports were of slaves for the plantations but also manufactured goods. These goods would include weapons, agricultural tools, clothing and basic objects for the home.

The war of independence drew a line in the sand as the newly free nation weened itself off dependence on the old colonial power. This didn’t happen overnight and indeed had probably started before independence as Americans would invite in particular textile and arms manufacturers to help them set up their own facilities. As would be the case so often in the way Britain shaped the manufacturing world, the young countries would create new factories with new machinery and so not be incumbered with earlier processes or machines.

This opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper surely contributed the what became known as the American System of Manufacturing where identical parts would be produced using machines instead of the then traditional more labour intensive and skilled manual process. Another driver of this was the need to move a workforce from agriculture to manufacturing without the time consuming learning of manual skills. The nature of the American republic is important. Where we talk of agricultural workers, we often mean small holders; men and women who had fought their way into self-sufficiency. There would therefore not be many prepared to give that up for the sake of a job in a factory. Equally in the agrarian society there were not skilled mechanics.

One name stands out in addressing this challenge and that was Eli Whitney whose career began in the southern states where he invented the cotton gin to improve the processing of raw cotton. He then moved north and set up in gun making. In order to meet the volumes needed, tasks needed to be undertaken by machines operated by unskilled labour.

Inventions alone were not enough, the creation of the American arms and textile industries was enabled by government purchasing for the needs of the army and so creating a level of demand that justified mechanisation. The position of US Ordnance is interesting. There were two main arsenals in Springfield, Massachusetts, and in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. In time these were supplemented by private manufacturers, principally Winchester Repeating Arms Company and Colt’s Patent Firearms Manufacturing both of which became successful leaders.

The evidence is that by 1851 the American system of manufacture was a known quantity as there is the story of Colt visiting the Great Exhibition and meeting a steam engine manufacturer, Richard Garrett, who was so impressed by Colt’s manufacturing methods that he built the first British factory geared to mass production, the Long Shop.

I can fast forward to the Second World War when Ford tried to make Rolls-Royce Merlin engines. These were handmade, but Ford needed to mass produce. Ford and Rolls-Royce engineers broke down the engine into parts and then into the engineering steps required to make those parts. These steps would be carried out on machines by largely unskilled workers many of whom were women new to the workplace.

Going back to the nineteenth century, America was becoming self-sufficient in manufacturing with one major exception. America, whilst rich in raw material, had only a very small capacity to produce iron and none really for steel, and it was steel that was needed not least for the massive project of connecting American by rail. This meant that not only England, but Germany and Belgium exported steel rails, tyres and other railway equipment including locomotives and rolling stock. I have written in HBSTMW how this export trade boosted British steel making and this was also the case with the German Krupp which I write about in a separate post. The story of the American steel industry is thus another strand which I will cover.

The image is of my mother and father together with the president of Chrysler at their WW2 tank factory which surely epitomised the American System of Manufacturing. You can read more of this by following this link.

Thursday, April 4, 2024

Derby and the Museum of Making

 The city of Derby is a home of British engineering and of probably the first textile factory at the Silk Mill. This has been repurposed to tell Derby’s story. The image is of the mill with thanks to the museum.

The Museum of Making takes the visitor through the astonishing array of manufacturing activity carried on in this midlands city really from the eighteenth century onwards. The museum has one floor titled simply assemblage and they suggest that this looks more like a museum store than a curated display. These photographs help to give a flavour

Voltage regulator

The entrance picks up one of the earliest contributions in the Silk Mill itself, an early example of the factory manufacturing system, taken further fifty years later by Arkwright at Cromford Mill

A work in progress paying homage to the Midland Railway

The railways are the subject of many exhibits from rails, signals to telegraph equipment, but no locomotives (you need to go to York for them). There are mock ups from the Derby railway workshops, not least the Intercity 125. It is clear that the Midland Railway based in Derby was a leader.

You can just about see a wooden mock up

Lawnmowers tell of the presence in the city of Qualcast. Fashion wear speaks of the ground breaking work in artificial fibres at British Celanese later part of Courtaulds. There are a number of eletrical equipment manufacturers. Ceramics feature with industrial examples on display; Crown Derby and Denby will be found elsewhere.

There is a Rolls-Royce aero engine suspended from the roof and information boards telling the story of this, the city's most illustrious son which came to its site at Sinfin Lane because the local authority could offer electric lighting. There are on display models of Hawk and other famous engines.

Derby did its job in war time in addition to Rolls-Royce Merlins, there was a huge army Motor Transport depot

You can read more in my books How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World and Vehicles to Vaccines

Friday, August 18, 2023

Winners and losers since 1951 - Rolls-Royce and Bentley

Reviewing the draft of my next book, working title 'Vehicles to Vaccines', some companies jump out as conspicuous success stories, and some less so. Beneath the surface there are many hundreds of smaller British manufacturing concerns which form the backbone of this sector.

In a sequence of forthcoming posts, I plan to tell some of the stories.

Sales of British companies is a recurring theme and there are a number of ways of viewing this. It creates shareholder value. It offers a way for overseas companies to benefit from UK manufacturing expertise. Yet, it saddens me. Am I being too emotional? More seriously, should I be concerned?

In the case of four of our top motor companies, I believe the answer to both is yes. Let's take the example of Rolls-Royce and Bentley. I shall look at Jaguar and Land Rover in a subsequent post.

The story is well known, but can be clouded by the mists of time. Henry Royce was a superbly talented engineer and, following the untimely death of his partner Charles Rolls, formed a team around him to complement his skills by adding imaginative marketing. Claude Johnson and Ernest Hives are names that stand out. Johnson’s view was that the company should build on its reputation of serving the aristocracy whose cars were nearly always driven by chauffeurs. Thus, if a customer wished to test drive a car, he would be driven by a Rolls-Royce chauffeur who had been schooled in the etiquette of service. Royce demanded the highest possible standards in engineering, as Johnson did in customer service.

W.O. Bentley was probably as great an engineer. At the start of the First World War, he worked for engine builder Gwynne who were not convinced by Bentley’s suggestion of aluminium pistons. Humber harboured no such doubts and, with him, built many engines this way. In 1920 W.O, as he was known, formed Bentley Motors. The Autocar magazine reported that he was working on a model ‘intended to appeal to those enthusiastic motorists who desire a car which, practically speaking, was a true racing car with touring accessories’. Only three years later, the car finished fourth in the Le Mans. It was the Wall Street crash that robbed Bentley of his company, and Rolls-Royce pipped at the post Napier & Sons to buy the valuable marque.

Rolls-Royce built both cars from their factory at Sinfin Lane in Derby alongside aeroengines.

When I say they built cars, I do mean that they produced the chassis with engine ready for a specialist coach builder to add the coachwork to meet the customers’ requirements.

During the Second World War, the production of aeroengines was vast and critical to the war effort. Cars were also produced as witnessed by the Rolls-Royce used by Field Marshall Montgomery (in the photograph).

Following the war, Rolls-Royce moved the production of cars to the shadow factory they had managed in Crewe, leaving aeroengines at Derby.

W.O. found he could no longer work with Rolls-Royce and so joined Lagonda which later teamed up with Aston-Martin under the ownership of David Brown. As I will tell in a later posts, they too enjoyed success at Le Mans.

In the fifties and sixties, Rolls-Royce produced some truly iconic cars, not least the Phantom IV, available only to royalty and heads of state.

Rolls-Royce underwent a dramatic change when the development costs of the RB211 aeroengine ran out of control, leading to the placing of the aeroengine company into public ownership. Rolls-Royce Motors was separately floated in 1973, which coincided with the launch of the Corniche, the fastest Rolls-Royce ever.

Rolls-Royce Motors was  bought by Vickers plc in 1980. They had been faced with the capital cost of tooling for new models; Vickers, on the other hand, expected a windfall from the nationalisation of their aircraft and shipbuilding businesses. Vickers worked hard to make the combination work, producing motor cars that the wealthy of the world wanted to buy, under both the Rolls-Royce and Bentley marques. In time, Vickers had to seek partners for Rolls-Royce to develop the next new model. The seeking evolved into a potential sale with BMW as front runners. BMW were already supplying engines for both Rolls-Royce and Bentley models; they also enjoyed success with joint ventures with the aeroengine company, Rolls-Royce plc, which had been privatised in 1987.

In the event, VW outbid BMW. As was widely reported at the time, VW found that they had bought the company without the right to use the brand which still belonged to Rolls-Royce plc. Undaunted, they set about building Bentleys at Crewe. BMW acquired the licence to use  the Rolls-Royce brand and set up a new factory on the Goodwood Estate in Sussex. 

The net result of all this is a duo of fully financed and commercially supported companies building distinct Rolls-Royce and Bentley cars in England. So, possibly not a cause for sadness.

Is it a cause for concern? Has this been an isolated incident the answer may well be no. As it is, these were just two of a long line of sales which neither the government nor the city did a thing to stop.

How Britain Shaped the Manufacturing World is now available to pre-order

Phil Hamlyn Williams has completed his sixth book beginning an exploration of British manufacturing. His great-grandfather exhibited at the ...