What can we learn from history? Since the Industrial Revolution, there have been many innovations in manufacturing, but in a few instances, a factory literally changed the way we do business. Every company has a story, but there are a few standouts that have paved the way for innovation:

  • In 1818, Springfield Armory, a U.S. military firearms manufacturer, started using inventor Thomas Blanchard’s replicating machine and revolutionized the assembly line method of mass production. His wood-turning lathe was able to cut irregular forms and help create new gun barrels in a more efficient way.
  • Ford’s Highland Park Plant in Highland Park, Michigan, is known for building the first repetitive assembly line in 1913, allowing the company to cut their assembly time and produce a Model T in roughly every minute. Without sacrificing quality, this quick turnaround brought a more cost-effective automobile to consumers.
  • And it’s no surprise that the one of the breakthrough facilities in latter half of the 20th century would be Toyota’s Honsha Production Plant and the Toyota Production System (TPS) developed by Taiichi Ohno in 1977. This system recognized the connection between people and technology and ultimately set the stage for today’s “lean” practices.

What will be the 21st century’s contribution to manufacturing innovation? In each of these instances, innovation and success didn’t come from merely attacking a problematic process. Each plant stepped outside of tradition and reexamined their existing processes, even when there didn’t appear to be any problems. Their business was seemingly stable. The “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset doesn’t cut it. The end result in each instance was a new approach that forever changed the manufacturing landscape.

You don’t have to be revolutionary to reap the benefits of the lessons taught to us by history’s most innovative manufacturers, but you do have to overcome complacency and fear of change.

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