Technical innovation in industrial production
New techniques in manufacturing, popularly referred to as mechanization and automation, have been a preoccupation of social and economic theorists since the industrial revolution. A selection of relevant literature is reviewed, including the neoclassical economic treatment of technical change. This incorporates alterations to the mathematical production function and an associated increase in the efficiency with which the factors of production are converted into output. Other work emphasises the role of research and development and the process of diffusion, whereby new production techniques are propagated throughout industry. Some sociological writings attach importance to the type of production technology and its effect on the organisational structure and social relations within the factory. Nine detailed case studies are undertaken of examples of industrial innovation in the rubber, automobile, vehicle components, confectionery and clothing industries. The old and new techniques are compared for a range of variables, including capital equipment, labour employed, raw materials used, space requirements and energy consumption, which in most cases exhibit significant change with the innovation. The rate of output, labour productivity, product quality, maintenance requirements and other aspects are also examined. The process by which the change in production method was achieved is documented, including the development of new equipment and the strategy of its introduction into the factory, where appropriate. The firm, its environment, and the attitude of different sectors of the workforce are all seen to play a part in determining the motives for and consequences which flow from the innovations. The traditional association of technical progress with its labour-saving aspect, though an accurate enough description of the cases investigated, is clearly seen to afford an inadequate perspective for the proper understanding of this complex phenomenon, which also induces change in a wide range of other social, economic and technical variables.
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