Introduction to Industrial Engineering

By Jane M. Fraser

Chapter 12

The past and the future

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12.2 New sources of power

Production requires power. The first sources of power were the human and then domesticated animals. Indeed power is often still measured in units called horsepower. Falling water was harnessed to provide power to mills, but required location near a stream.

James Watt (1736-1819) made crucial improvements to earlier crude steam engines and patented his device in 1769. His new engine revolutionized the provision of power, as commemorated in the naming of the modern unit of power in physics: the watt. In a steam engine, wood, coal, or other product is burned to heat water. The pressure from the resulting steam is used to move mechanical parts.

The steam engine was a crucial development in the industrial revolution because power could be generated from any source of heat at any location and could be used to provide various types of movement. Cotton spinning and cotton weaving are an example of the revolution in work created by the steam engine. Steam engines were used to pump water from mines, allowing the extraction of ores previously unusable. Ships and trains were moved by steam power. Power tools and printing presses were driven by steam engines.

The invention of this convenient source of power was useful also because of many other inventions that were powered by steam engines or that created other efficiencies. Edmund Cartwight developed the power loom, which was improved by John Horrocks (Hughes, page 58). Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin to replace hand harvesting of cotton. Dredging of rivers enabled steam powered ships to reach more cities.