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A factory (previously manufactory) is a large industrial building where workers manufacture goods or products. Most modern factories have large warehouse-like facilities that contain heavy equipment used for assembly line production. Archetypally, factories gather and concentrate resources -- workers, capital and plant.
Before becoming associated with large-scale manufacturing, the term factory might refer to:
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the use of factory as a manufacturing site, plant or works back as far as 1618.
History of the factory
The Venice Arsenal provides the first example of a factory in the modern sense of the word. Founded in 1104 in Venice, Italy, several hundred years before the Industrial Revolution, it mass-produced ships on assembly lines using manufactured parts. The Venice Arsenal apparently produced nearly one ship every day and, at its height, employed 16,000 people.
Apart from that, many historians regard Matthew Boulton's Soho Manufactory (established in 1761 in Birmingham) as the first modern factory.
British colonies in the late 18th century built factories simply as buildings where a large number of workers gathered to perform hand labor, usually in textile production. This proved more efficient – for administration and for the distribution of raw materials to individual workers – than earlier methods of manufacturing such as cottage industries or the putting-out system.
Cotton mills utilised inventions such as the steam engine and the power loom to pioneer the industrial factory of the 19th century, where precision machine tools and replaceable parts allowed greater efficiency and less waste.
Henry Ford further revolutionized the factory concept in the early 20th century, with the innovation of mass production. Highly specialized workers situated alongside a series of rolling ramps would build up a product such as (in Ford's case) an automobile. This concept dramatically decreased production costs for virtually all manufactured goods and brought about the age of consumerism.
In the mid- to late 20th century, Japan introduced next-generation factories with two improvements:
- Advanced statistical methods of quality control, pioneered by the American mathematician William Edwards Deming, whom his home country initially ignored. Quality control turned Japanese factories into world leaders in cost-effectiveness and production quality.
- Industrial robots on the factory floor, introduced in the late 1970s. These computer-controlled welding arms and grippers could perform simple tasks such as attaching a car door quickly and flawlessly 24 hours a day. This too cut costs and improved speed.
Some speculation as to the future of the factory includes scenarios with rapid prototyping, nanotechnology, and orbital zero gravity facilities.
Siting the factory
Before the advent of mass transportation, factories' needs for ever-greater concentrations of workers meant that they typically grew up in an urban setting or fostered their own urbanisation. Industrial slums developed, and re-inforced their own development through the interactions between factories, as when one factory's output or waste-product became the raw materials of another factory (preferably nearby). Canals and railways grew as factories spread, each clustering round sources of cheap energy, available materials and/or mass markets. The exception proved the rule: even greenfields factory sites such as Bournville, founded in a rural setting, developed its own housing and profitted from convenient communications networks.
Regulation curbed some of the worst excesses of industrialisation's factory-based society, a series of Factory Acts leading the way in Britain. Trams, automobiles and town planning encouraged the separate development ('apartheid') of industrial suburbs and residential suburbs, with workers commuting between them.
Though factories dominated the Industrial Era, the growth in the service sector eventually began to dethrone them: the locus of work in general shifted to central-city office towers or to semi-rural campus-style establishments, and many factories stood deserted in local rust belts.
The next blow to the traditional factories came from globalisation. Manufacturing processes (or their logical successors, assembly plants) in the late 20th century re-focussed in many instances on Special Economic Zones in developing countries or on maquiladoras just across the national boundaries of industrialised states. Further re-location to the least industrialised nations appears possible as the benefits of out-sourcing and the lessons of flexible location apply in the future.
Governing the factory
Much of management theory developed in response to the need to control factory processes. Assumption of the hierarchies of unskilled, semi-skilled and skilled workers and their supervisors and managers linger on.
Last updated: 09-12-2005 02:39:13