In the 1980s technology seemed to be booming, but productivity was almost stagnant. Economists dubbed it the “productivity paradox”.
Rewind 100 years. Another remarkable new technology was proving disappointing: electricity.
Some corporations were investing in electric dynamos and motors and installing them in the workplace. Yet the expected surge in productivity did not come.
In 1900, less than 5% of mechanical drive power in American factories was coming from electric motors. The age of steam lingered.
Back then a steam-powered factory was something awe-inspiring.
Until about 1910, plenty of entrepreneurs looked at the new electrical drive system and opted for good old-fashioned steam.
More efficient: electric factories
Electric motors could do much more. Electricity allowed power to be delivered exactly where and when it was needed.
A factory powered by steam needed to be built strong enough to carry huge steel drive shafts, where as one powered by electricity could be light and airy.
Rather than arranging the factory around the logic of the driveshaft, electricity meant you could organise factories on the logic of a production line.
Old factories were dark and dense, while new factories could spread out, with wings and windows allowing natural light and air.
In the old factories, the steam engine would determine the pace. In new factories, workers could do so. As a whole, new factories could be cleaner, safer and more efficient – as the machines only needed to run when in use.
However, these results could not come about by simply ripping out the steam engine and replacing it with an electric motor – everything needed to be changed, including the architecture and the production process.
Workers had more autonomy and flexibility, which meant the way in which they were recruited, trained and paid also had to be changed.
It was understandable why factory owners hesitated to switch to electric factories – they didn’t want to get rid of their existing capital. But at the same time, they may have also struggled to imagine the implications of a world where everything needed to adapt to the new technology.
In the end, however, change was unavoidable and it did happen.
How to cut down on energy manufacturing bills
A successful manufacturing business is all about efficiency. Here are a few tips to help you cut your energy manufacturing bills:
Manufacturing motors: Reducing motor speed by 20% can reduce energy consumption by up to 50%
Compressed air: A compressor that’s left on but not used consumes up to 70% of its full load power
Factory heating and insulation: 12% of all the energy used by the manufacturing industry is for heating buildings
Factory lighting: LED bulbs could reduce the electricity you use for lighting by up to 80%
Refrigeration: When buying new refrigerators, AA++ rated units have the lowest running costs