More about Bridgewater Foundry - Woolwich Arsenal
ContentsIncreased demand for self-acting tools ,
Promotions of lads ,
The Trades' Union again ,
Strike against Platt Brothers ,
Edward Tootal's advice ,
Friendliness between engineering firms ,
Small high-pressure engines ,
Uses of waste steam ,
Improvements in calico-printing ,
Improvements at Woolwich Arsenal ,
Enlargement of workshops ,
Improved machine tools ,
The gun foundry and laboratories ,
Orders for Spain and Russia ,
Rope factory machinery ,
Russian Officers ,
Grand Duke Constantine ,
Lord Ellesmere's visitors ,
THE rapid extension of railways and steam navigation, both at home and abroad, occasioned a largely increased demand for machinery of all kinds. Our order-book was always full; and every mechanical workshop felt the impulse of expanding trade. There was an increased demand for skilled mechanical labour -- a demand that was far in excess of the supply. Employers began to outbid each other, and wages rapidly rose. At the same time the disposition to steady exertion on the part of the workmen began to decline.
This state of affairs had its usual effect. It increased the demand for self-acting tools, by which the employers might increase the productiveness of their factories without having resort to the costly and untrustworthy method of meeting the demand by increasing the number of their workmen. Machine tools were found to be of much greater advantage. They displaced hand-dexterity and muscular force. They were unfailing in their action. They could not possibly go wrong in planing and turning, because they were regulated by perfect self-acting arrangements. They were always ready for work, and never required a Holiday or a Saint Monday.
As the Bridgewater Foundry had been so fortunate as to earn for itself a considerable reputation for mechanical contrivances, the workshops were always busy. They were crowded with machine tools in full action, and exhibited to all comers their effectiveness in the most satisfactory manner, Every facility was afforded to those who desired to see them at work; and every machine and machine tool that was turned out became in the hands of its employers the progenitor of a numerous family.
Indeed, on many occasions I had the gratification of seeing my mechanical notions adopted by rival or competitive machine constructors, often without acknowledgment; though, notwithstanding this point of honour, there was room enough for all. Though the parent features were easily recognisable, I esteemed such plagiarisms as a sort of left-handed compliment to their author. I also regarded them as a proof that I had hit the mark in so arranging my mechanical combinations as to cause their general adoption, and many of them remain unaltered to this day.
The machine tools when in action did not require a skilled workman to guide or watch them. All that was necessary to superintend them was a well-selected labourer. The self-acting machine tools already possessed the requisite ability to plane, to turn, to polish, and to execute the work when firmly placed in situ. The work merely required to be shifted from time to time, and carefully fixed for another action of the machine.
Besides selecting clever labourers, I made an extensive use of active handy boys to superintend the smaller class of self-acting machine tools. To do this required little exertion of muscular force, but only observant attention. The machine tools did all the working (for the thinking had been embodied in them beforehand), and they turned out all manner of geometrical forms with the utmost correctness. This sort of training educated the faculties of the lads, and trained their ideas to the perception of exactness of form, at the same time that it gave them an intimate acquaintance with the nature of the materials employed in mechanical structures. The rapidity with which they thus acquired the efficiency of thoroughly practical mechanics was surprising.
As the lads grew in strength they were promoted to the higher classes of work. We gave to the foreman of each department the right to recommend to a special rise of wages any lad who showed an extra intelligent earnestness and assiduity in superintending his machine. This produced an active spirit of
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