The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century mark the arrival of the second industrial revolution and with it the technicalization of industrial processes.
To better understand some of the methodologies that have emerged and given a boost to factories, it is necessary to study the lives of figures like Frank Gilbreth. In these paragraphs we will get to know his life and his main contributions to the labor sciences and more particularly to industrial engineering, through 1 biographer of Frank Gilbreth.
Brief biography of Frank Bunker Gilbreth
Frank Bunker Gilbreth was born in Fairfield, Maine, United States, in 1868. His origins were very modest, as his mother taught at a nearby school and his father combined farmhouse work with his work in a hardware store. Outraged, his parent died when Frank Gilbreth was very youngAs he was only three years old at the time of this tragic event. After the death of his father, the family decided to move to Andover, Massachusetts.
His father’s legacy disappeared in a few years, And Frank Gilbreth’s mother’s salary as a teacher was not enough to support his family, given the exclusive schools he took his children to.
Therefore, he decided to move again, this time to Boston, in search of quality public schools where children could continue their education without incurring the large financial outlay that he had to make in its old location.
Youth and first innovations
Frank Gilbreth was not a prominent student of the school, although he gradually focused on studies, particularly attracting subjects related to mathematics and science. So much so that he even passed the tests to enter the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), but the economic situation at home caused him to finally give up and start working to relieve the financial pressure on him. his mother.
So at 17, he started his first job, neither more nor less than a mason, thanks to the mediation of a former teacher. And this point was essential in the life of Frank Gilbreth for his future contributions, because working as a worker allowed him to observe the many ways in which he had to perform any task, no matter how simple, and was always interested. to find a way to maximize the mall. So Gilbreth went up and up, while studying at night.
With this perseverance and effort, Frank Gilbreth, in just 5 years he was promoted to superintendent, which ultimately succeeded in alleviating the economic situation of the house. And this is where a stage of innovation for the industry began, thanks to his awakened mind and his own experience. The first patent he filed was for a vertical scaffolding, the purpose of which was to allow the worker to always have the pile of bricks accessible at the level he was working on, without having to constantly move around.
It also improved the structures in which the workers worked, the waterproofing. He was also in charge of perfecting the work with concrete. In his meteoric growth in the industry, he became a member of ASME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and rose to the highest possible level in the company, already being Chief Superintendent. However, Renton Whidden, a former teacher and boss for a decade, didn’t give him the chance to become a partner, so Frank Gilbreth embarked on his own adventure.
Career Development: Gilbreth Inc.
A growth stage begins for Frank Gilbreth. Already an administrative engineer, he continues to register patents for various inventionsHe started working as a contractor also in the construction industry, and even started working as a professor at Purdue University.
During this time too he marries Lillian Moller, Industrial engineer and psychologist, who will also be his partner in subsequent work and research.
Already as a contractor, Frank Gilbreth continues to think about methods to make masonry tasks more efficient. For these questions, his wife’s work is vital, thanks to her studies.
Therefore, both founded Gilbreth Inc., a management consulting firm specializing in optimizing business procedures. Frank Gilbreth and his wife are tasked with designing work plans to construct buildings as important as the Sioux City warehouse of the Simmons Hardware Company.
The construction plan for this huge building was perfect for implementing all of Frank Gilbreth and his wife’s studies.
Both the construction of the block itself and the design of the installations so that inside it the corresponding tasks of the operators have been carried out in a fully efficient manner, optimizing the flow of input and output of materials, to through a system of railways where they managed the arrival and departure of wagons.
Studies of movement
In 1917, the United States entered World War I, which had raged in Europe since 1914. In this period of war, the government calls on the services of Frank Gilbreth to apply his knowledge of industrial engineering to the armaments sector.
To do this, he developed a method that consisted of 17 basic movements needed to assemble and disassemble a weapon, with total optimization. To create this procedure, he used video cameras. He called this method the “therbligs”, an anagram of his own name.
The standardization of these basic movements was so powerful that, once learned, soldiers were able to disassemble and reattach their weapons even while blindfolded, Which could be extrapolated to low visibility conditions in the trenches or at times when they could not look directly due to the combat situation. In other words, through the 17 base movements, he kind of perfected the way to wage war.
Frank Gilbreth had previously brought his expertise in the study of movement to the construction sector and the war industry. But his contribution did not stop here.
too much bring this knowledge to health, because it was he who proposed the figure of the assistant in operating theaters, So that one person was responsible for delivering the surgeon with all the instruments he needed, so that he did not have to move or concentrate on a high-precision task.
Although many people associate these contributions with those of Frederick Taylor and his Taylorism, the truth is that this stream was in line with minimizing production times, while Frank Gilbreth sought total optimization and efficiency, carrying out the good number of movements to perform. a spot. Although the two methodologies may have common parts and even overlap in some procedures, the truth is that they are different conceptualizations.
This difference of opinion has even resulted in some personal enmity between the two families and commercial disputes over some of the patents they both filed. In the years since Frank Gilbreth’s death, Lillian struggled to end these feuds and reestablish a cordial relationship between her family and that of Frederick Taylor.
The studies of Frank Gilbreth and his wife have made another contribution, and is that by reducing the movements of workers, too they were able to reduce the fatigue they felt during their working day.
This was achieved not only by providing less movement for the task, but also by providing new designs for certain tools, and by placing the elements necessary for the job in certain positions and heights. In other words, he created ergonomics at work.
Death and inheritance
Frank Gerbreth died in 1924, at only 55 years old, of a seizure cardiac, Leaving Lillian a widow and orphaning her twelve children. And it is that the two had formed a large family which in addition it had served to put into practice and to perfect some of their optimization techniques, because they had at home twelve perfect participants for all the experiments.
Thanks to these tests, one of his children wrote, as an adult, the famous work of Cheaper by the Dozen, or Twelve at Home, which even had its film version, and is part of the legacy of Frank Gilbreth, with all his contributions to industrial engineering, ergonomics and the improvement of various production processes. Without a doubt, a key figure in the evolution of working methods, both in factories and in many professions.
- Baumgart, A., Neuhauser, D. (2009). Frank and Lillian Gilbreth: Scientific Management in the Operating Room. BMJ quality and safety.
- Nadworny, MJ (1957). Frederick Taylor and Frank Gilbreth: Competency in Scientific Management. The review of business history.
- Price, B. (1990). Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and the Controversy over the Study of Movement, 1907-1930. A mental revolution: scientific management since Taylor.