Thanks for these helpful thoughts. As I see it, interchangeable
working parts and mass production defined the industrial era. Earlier
eras had the mass manufacture of identical objects. Stones and bricks
as two examples. Bricks predate the pyramids, and we find examples of
identical, mass-produced bricks -- some with trademarks! -- in most
of the ancient civilizations. In the same way that standards led to
related development in systems such as parking spaces, early standard
production also led to large, interconnected systems in which
products and systems, activities and behavior all worked together.
The craft of war with the carefully planned motion of soldiers using
common weapons and a common fighting style on a shield line is an
example of products and systems, activities and behavior working
together. Disciplined military units that fought systematically
generally won against equally brave or equally well supplied units
that lacked a common organizational system and fighting process. In
some cases, systemic warfare and careful strategy -- with that
helpful condition of luck -- enabled small units to defeat much
larger forces. We read about these kinds of systems in Sun Tzu,
Xenophon, and Thucydides. History records several memorable battles
in which technology, strategy, and delivery systems (including
organized, effective fighters) made a huge difference despite unequal
size of the opposing armies. Marathon, Thermoplyae, Granicus, and
Agincourt are all examples of this.
The industrial era arrives with the American System of Manufacturing
with a technology that produces interchangeable parts for things that
will work together. This began in the early 19th century, expanding
in scale and scope as it slowly became possible to manufacture
machines that manufactured other machines. Altogether, products and
systems, activities and behavior make the difference.
The point I've been making is that there is a long, slow progression
in industrial development going back to the earliest days of human
creation. We can describe this as a kind of punctuated equilibrium
with great advances in intense spurts. The industrial advances of the
past century have been tightly spaced, intense, and continuous, but
this (and the earlier industrial revolutions) are infrequent on the
2,500,000 year time scale dating from the first manufactured tool.
The parallel development in societies, cultures, and the environment
are visible in the growth of world population from fewer than a
billion people in 1800 to six and a half billion people today. This
is also visible in the extinction of species that compete with human
beings for environmental niches and resources. We don't always
realize when we -- or our systems -- are competing with other species
in evolutionary terms, and this is a real problem for the world and
Your post captures the logic that made much of our industrial success
possible: interchangeable parts in objects, in machinery, and in
manufacturing systems; modularity, including assembly and
sub-assembly systems; and standards.
This, together with lean production methods, better organizational
structures, and organizational learning make the difference between
industrial production in the Ford era and industrial production in
the Toyota era.
Klaus Krippendorff wrote:
>i am suggesting that the interchangeability of parts is an epiphenomenon of
>mass production. mass production of identical products by repetitive
>machine operation was the driving force of the industrial era.
>example 1: if you have a huge number of identical products in use, if
>different parts of that product can break, any one of them making it
>inoperable, there is a good chance that one can salvage the defective part
>from another identical product that failed for a different reason.
>example 2: mass production was greatly enhanced by modularization in the
>sense that a product was conceptually divided into subassemblies,
>subsubassemblies, etc, which could be combined variously and outsourced to
>different manufacturers, specializing in these subassemblies, for example
>screw manufacturers, carburetor manufacturers, engine plants. today, car
>manufacturers are mere assembly operations. since industry was driven to
>increase their markets, specialized manufacturers had an interest in selling
>their products to a variety of manufacturers. consequently, standards
>developed that greatly increased the efficiency if mass production.
>example 3: carrying the emergence of standards further, while many mass
>products end up in relatively unique situations (person X driving a mass
>produced car), where mass products occur together, (combinatorially or
>sequentially) they encourage standards as well. e.g., the standard spaces
>for cars in parking garages. the oldest combinatorial standard that i can
>think of was for building material, which could be combined in numerous
>ways. the egyptians used stone blocks of identical sizes to build pyramids.
>the romans had standard size bricks.
>the mayans, by contrast, made each stone to fit uniquely its neighbors.
>just as the tailors, locksmiths, and carpenters of preindustral eras who
>fitted each part to work with the other parts. in the absence of mass
>production, interchangeability was meaningless.