85 Years Ago: Machine Design’s First Year: Part 1

Oct. 10, 2014
Here are some headlines and images from 1929, the inaugural year of Machine Design.
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September 1929: Automaker Fritz von Opel makes the first manned rocket plane flight.

The birth of mechatronics?

A September 1929 article titled “Photo Cell in Sorting Machine Excels Human Eye” by Lester Ferenci describes how a cigar-sorting apparatus benefits from using a photo cell to sort stogies by color. The article starts with a prophetic statement: “More and more is electricity becoming a vital factor in machine design.” It then goes on to say: “We are beginning to realize the advantages to be gained by the use of electrical equipment in machinery and for this reason machine designers rapidly are familiarizing themselves with the functions of various electrical units, their principles and their possible utility in mechanics.”

This cigar-sorting machine could use a photocell to separate cigars into one of ten color shades at up to 4000 cigars per hour. It was also an early example of adding the then “new” electrical inventions to mechanical design, an early example of mechatronics.

October 1929: Stock Market crashes triggers the Great Depression.

Tips for streamlining design departments

John F. Hardecker, the chief draftsman of the U.S. naval aircraft factory, begins a six-part series outlining how to run a ship-shape design team. He finishes the article with some words on standardization: “In conclusion, while standardization has its faults and pitfalls, these best can be avoided by keeping constantly in mind the true meaning of standardization. The best definition known is that ‘standardization is common sense applied to creative individualism for the purpose of achieving the greatest good for all.’ Unfortunately, it is human nature to take a positive stand for or against on any new issue, but in standardization at least, the best position is a reasonable middle ground.”  

November 1929: Dr. Vladimir K Zworykin demonstrates the “kinescope,” a cathode-ray receiving tube. 

How field testing and customers can  improve designs

This November 1929 article describes how companies must continue field testing to prove their designs and manufacturing processes. But it also stresses that companies should use customer suggestions and complaints to improve their designs and resultant machinery. It even suggests being proactive and asking customers what could be improved or changed. The author, an unidentified Chapin Hoskins, says: “The machine which you have designed will, in the customer’s hands, be subjected to tests the most fertile brain could not possible think of in advance. After all, the worth of any machine is determined by what it does in practical use. For the actual test of practical operation by a customer there is no substitute.”

Even back in 1929, auto companies were running dynamometer tests on new cars at their proving grounds to help them improve their designs and manufacturing methods.
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