Seventy-Five Years Of Publishing And The Evolution Of Design Engineering

Sept. 16, 2004
As fate would have it, the inaugural issue of MACHINE DESIGN coincided almost exactly with the stock-market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression.

Seventy-five years of publishing and the evolution of design engineering

The editorial staff of MACHINE DESIGN circa 1966. The engineering profession of the time was buoyed by aerospace R & D, the race to the Moon, and the Cold War.

MACHINE DESIGN conducted its LeMouse 5000 competition at a 1972 trade show. Entrants devised a vehicle powered only by an ordinary mousetrap. The contest became the inspiration for light-hearted design contests conducted by engineering societies and engineering schools throughout the nation.

Believe it or not, MACHINE DESIGN once published a pin up poster: Miss Metric made her debut in a 1973 issue to acquaint readers with the push for adoption of the Metric system in the U.S.

Although the nation was in the economic doldrums, there was significant design development taking place in almost all industrial segments including automotive, aircraft, farm equipment, home appliances, and industrial machinery.

The onset of World War II ended the depression and brought almost frenetic activity to design engineering at large. After the war, civilian industries thrived. But it wasn't until after Sputnik was launched in 1957 that design engineering gained considerable prestige. It was only then, a good decade into the Cold War, that the public realized science and engineering were going to have a lot to do with keeping the Communists at bay. The government unloaded almost limitless supplies of money on hightech defense industries, and engineering became the career of choice. High salaries and generous perks were lavished on engineers and scientists.

For about a decade before Sputnik, engineering colleges were beginning to feel slighted because doctors, lawyers, and business executives were viewed as having more prestige and professional status. Intellectual elites viewed engineering colleges as being trade schools, and graduate engineers were said to be nothing more than mechanics or glorified shop hands.

As a response, engineering schools began to drop courses that lacked academic rigor or had the slightest blue-collar aura. That meant, of course, that courses on manufacturingand shop practice were deleted from the curricula of top schools. Sputnik accelerated the movement, and the idea was to portray engineers as being more scientists than mechanics. The rocket scientists working on the space program became the image to which most engineers aspired.

This attitude had a lot to do with framing the editorial policies of MACHINE DESIGN through the 1960s. These policies were also in tune with what was happening in the largest and most sophisticated corporations, especially the aircraft and automotive industries, where design engineering and manufacturing engineering were increasingly treated as separate entities having no common interest. Reflecting this, articles selected for MACHINE DESIGN were carefully tailored not to have too much of a manufacturing orientation.

Later, however, the attitude began to change. The magazine staff increasingly understood that design and manufacturing were closely intertwined and the editorial content reflected this. MACHINE DESIGN, for example, was the first design magazine to run a comprehensive article explaining numerical control machining and showing how it related to design engineering. The year was 1967, and prior to that no engineering publication had even broached the topic.

As events transpired, MACHINE DESIGN's coverage of manufacturing positioned us well when concurrent engineering became the trendy idea in industry. Major corporations suddenly discovered that design and manufacturing were interrelated, and it became trendy to tear down the walls between design engineers and manufacturing engineers.

In the 1970s, finite-element analysis broke on the industrial scene. MACHINE DESIGN, again, was the first design publication to cover this crucial technology and introduce it to the design community. Providing an ongoing series of technological overviews interspersed with in-depth tutorials, we kept readers abreast of a technology that was transforming product design like nothing before it.

At the same time, computer-aided design was evolving, and by the 1980s it was also having a profound impact on design procedures. Computer-aided manufacturing evolved separately, but by 1990 CAD and CAM had merged, just as 20 years earlier MACHINE DESIGN had predicted they would. In the area of electrical and electronic technology, MACHINE DESIGN was reporting on how digital electronics and the microprocessor were combining a number of design disciplines into the technology of motion control.

Finally, MACHINE DESIGN has long recognized that how material is presented is almost as important as what is presented. Back in the Sputnik era, there was a tendency for technical articles to be presented much as technical lectures were in college, with readers being expected to sift through turgid writing to sift out pearls of wisdom embedded in each treatise. Editors felt they had done their job if the material was there, no matter how difficult it was to read or understand. MACHINE DESIGN was the first technical magazine to reject this notion, placing an obligation on editors to produce lucid and interesting articles supported by intelligent uses of graphics.

MACHINE DESIGN editors know that readers will keep coming back to a magazine as long as they find gratification in doing so. In our view, that gratification comes from becoming informed and learning job-related technical material in a way that is not painful but instead is easy and enjoyable. The ideal state is having work and play become indistinguishable, and that is what we try to achieve, both for our staff and our readers.

Voice your opinion!

To join the conversation, and become an exclusive member of Machine Design, create an account today!