From Ships in Venice to Smart Robots: How Factories Have Evolved

From Ships in Venice to Smart Robots: How Factories Have Evolved

20th November 2019

Factories are such an important part of modern life that it is almost impossible for us to imagine the world without them. Yet, this is a relatively modern invention that has evolved in recent times and is sure to carry on adapting to new technology.

How did the first factories appear and what has happened since those early days to transform them? More importantly, how can we expect them to change in the future?

The World’s First Factory

There is some dispute over where exactly the first plant in history was located. Some sources suggest that it may have been the Venice Arsenal, in modern-day Italy. Around 16,000 people worked here and together they built an average of a ship a day. 

Another candidate for this title was the slave factory with 120 workers in Athens, or in the ancient Egyptian settlement of Naucratis.  Baghdad also had large-scale milling operations that could fit some definitions of a factory.

It really just depends how we define a factory. If it is simply a place where a large group of workers get together to create something then there have been factories in use in different parts of the world for centuries.   

The Arrival of the Modern Factory

However, it is generally accepted that the first modern factory didn’t appear until the Industrial Revolution. This is because some definitions of what a factory is include the use of machinery in the manufacturing process. 

In the 18th century, the latest technological advances allowed many new factories to spring up, mainly in the north of England and the Midlands.

Birmingham was the site of the factory where Matthew Boulton used James Watt’s recently invented steam engine in the Soho manufactory. Another example can be seen with the silk mill set up in Derby by John Lombe, who used water power to make life easier.

One of the next major innovations came at the start of the 20th century, when Henry Ford created the idea of the moving assembly line to make production faster and cheaper. This allocated specialised tasks to different groups of workers, making them into the sort of production line that we are now so familiar with.  

The arrival of the computer brought about more big changes in factories towards the end of the 20th century. In addition to that, new safety features such as aluminium walkway construction, strict new regulations and the use of protective clothing have made conditions better for workers. 
What Is the Future of Factories?

There are many exciting innovations that could lead to new ways of working in factories. These include virtual reality, augmented reality and artificial intelligence.

It is easy to imagine that the factories of the future will be populated by robots that work efficiently 24 hours a day. Lights-out factories have already appeared in Japan, with unsupervised robots making other robots without any human intervention.

The truth is that there are also sure to be some surprising changes in the years to come that help us to produce more products in a more effective way.