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Thursday, April 03, 2014

History of Mechanical Engineering

Mechanical Engineering is probably the forerunner of many branches of Engineering. The History of Machines embraces a very broad period of the history of mankind, and can be studied from many perspectives. The seeding of Mechanical engineering started at ancient time and gradually progressed through the medieval time with the mankind. At different points of time, many people contributed a lot (say Archimedes, Newton, Arabs , Chinese etc.) and it grew very fast . Industrial revolution started at many place of the world which  made the progress faster. Now Mechanical engineering is a fully developed science which handles enormous quantity of knowledge and machinery to make the life safe and comfortable .

Mechanical Engineering in ancient time
Many studies reveal that the evolution of Mechanical engineering started in China much before than in Europe till 16 th centuary. Extremely ancient documents like the “Kao Gong Ji” (“Book of Diverse Arts”, 770-221 BC), reveal a concern for the development of science in all its forms: Astronomy, Biology, Mathematics, Physics and Engineering.  Numerous written examples followed this work. compendiums on war machines, agricultural and hydraulic machines, textile machinery, clocks and automations follow one another through countless pages of diagrams and explanations. which dates from 2600-1100 BC and Su Song’s astronomical clock built in 1089, which, with its more than four hundred parts was undoubtedly a technological wonder.

Applications of Mechanical Engineering is evident in ancient and medieval period throughout the mankind. Many discoveries and works of Archimedes ( 287 BC – 212 BC ) have contributed  a lot to Mechanical engineering field. Widely known Archimedes principle was a turning point in the engineering field. He developed a screw mechanism to pump leaked water from the  ship and the same principle is used in the screw pump, now a days. The claw of Archimedes also known as the ship shaker was an engineering marvel.  The claw consisted of a crane-like arm from which a large metal grappling hook was suspended. When the claw was dropped onto an attacking ship the arm would swing upwards, lifting the ship out of the water and possibly sinking it. Modern days experiments proved that  it can be a reality. Focusing of sun light using mirrors to burn enemy ships was another invention by him.  In 2005 a number of Massachusetts Institute of Technology students conducted the experiment and proved that this is possible under certain conditions. He designed some pulley system   to help sailors to lift heavy items which was otherwise very difficult to move.

Hero (or Heron ) of Alexandria (BC 10 – 70 AD)was an ancient Egyptian mathematician and  engineer who contributed a lot to the engineering field. He is considered the greatest experimenter of antiquity. He is the inventor of first recorded steam engine. The first vending machine also is one of his many constructions.

Mechanical Engineering in Medieval time
During the years from 7th to 15th century, the era called the Islamic Golden Age, there were remarkable contributions from Muslim inventors in the field of Mechanical technology. Islam spread to the confines of the known world during the Middle Ages and

Arabic became the vehicle of culture in its area of influence. The “House of Wisdom”, founded in Baghdad (9th C), contributes to the apparition of the book entitled “Ingenious Devices” written by the three Banu Musa brothers, whose pages contain the diagrams of one hundred machines and mechanisms. Some machines were copies of those produced by Hero and Philo but many others were improvements of these or new models.

Al Jazari(1136– 1206) the muslim polymath , in his “Book of knowledge of ingenious Mechanical devices” in 1206 discussed 100 Mechanical devices along with instructions on how to construct them.  Theses include  fountains, clocks, water wheels and automatons with a precision of detail in both drawings and explanations that had been unknown up to that time. His machines reveal an increase in complexity that turned out to be not only useful but also of spectacular appearance, as was the case of the elephant clock that combines Mechanical engineering and design in equal parts.

The Re-birth of Western Europe in the14th, 15th and 16th centuries marked a stage of renewed activity and vitality on a level of arts, sciences and literature, as it was sought to leave behind the stagnation of the Middle Ages. Unlike what happened in the Middle Ages, the opening up of Renaissance society paved the way to the spread of machines. The 15th century can be taken as the high period of machine development, with celebrities like Leonardo da Vinci and Francesco Di Giorgio whose success was partly due to an environment that was open to their creativity and new ideas. Parallel to this an interest in the theoretical aspects of machines led to a recovery of the knowledge of Antiquity with the study of authors from the Greek and Roman culture.

The publication of knowledge in the form of treatises began at the end of the 15th century. A first line of activity was the study of machine mechanics as an application of physics, by well-known figures such as Guidobaldo del Monte and Galileo Galilei. The second line consisted of a development towards a discipline in the shape of a rational collection of machines, outstanding of which were the machine collections of the aforementioned Francesco Di Giorgio and Agostino Ramelli
The Machine Renaissance, from Italy, spread throughout Western Europe from the second half of the 15th century with outstanding works such as Georgius Agricola’s “De Re Metallica” and Jacobus Strada’s “Kunstliche Abris allerhand Wasser”

The printing press was a decisive factor in the dissemination of these treatises. Not only the text but also the accompanying illustrations attained a quality hitherto unknown in the previous books on machines that had been painstakingly copied by scribes. Although some significant treatises have survived to the present in the form of manuscripts, most authors published printed books whose readers no longer needed to belong to the privileged classes. Machine knowledge became popular and spread on a qualitatively different scale from previous periods.

Important breakthroughs in the foundations of Mechanical engineering occurred in England during the 17th century when Sir Isaac Newton both formulated the three Newton's Laws of Motion and developed Calculus, the mathematical basis of physics. Newton was reluctant to publish his methods and laws for years, but he was finally persuaded to do so by his colleagues much to the benefit of all mankind. German mathematician and philosopher  Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646 – 1716) is also credited with creating Calculus during the same time frame.

Mechanical Engineering during Industrial revolution
This period in history arose after the accumulation of knowledge from preceding eras and due to the coming together of a series of factors that resulted in a period of continuous advancement and progress that led to a change of focus, both social and engineering. The construction of the steam engine by J. Watt (1736-1819) was a turning point, but on a Mechanical level maybe establishing the search for automation in every field was more important. The machines began to replace people as a result of the new technologies that were being discovered in agriculture, mining or textile industry. A fine example of this generalised progress came about in the sphere of textile engineering, where developments arose in every field (spinning, weaving and sewing, by the men like Arkwright, Hargreaves and Crompton . The industrial evolution was continuous and in very few years all industries that were unable to move forward with technology, became obsolete.

Actually  the industrial revolution did not spread and appear everywhere at the same speed. For example, while England was the pioneer in introducing mechanised and automated industries, neighbouring France was caught up in a social conflict that set it aside from this type of progress.

During the early 19th century in England, Germany and Scotland, the development of machine tools led Mechanical engineering to develop as a separate field within engineering, providing manufacturing machines and the engines to power them. The first British professional society of Mechanical engineers was formed in 1847, Institution of Mechanical Engineers. On the European continent, Johann Von Zimmermann (1820–1901) founded the first factory for grinding machines in Germany in 1848.

In the United States, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) was formed in 1880, becoming the third such professional engineering society, after the American Society of Civil Engineers (1852) and the American Institute of Mining Engineers (1871). The first schools in the United States to offer an engineering education were the United States Military Academy in 1817, an institution now known as Norwich University in 1819, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1825. Education in Mechanical engineering has historically been based on a strong foundation in mathematics and science.

Comparing the “History of Mankind” with the “History of Machines” reveals a parallel evolution throughout the history. Technical progress has led man to use his imagination and resources not only for his own benefit but also as a way of providing help to the whole mankind. This work has always been done jointly and under the considerable influence of the scientific and political environment of the time. Perhaps the most appropriate example of this type of development is the Industrial Revolution, which, as we have seen, gave way to automated industries and the replacement of men by machines. A “History of Machines” which is also the history of Mechanical engineering will never be complete, but this review will help to understand how the minds of “Mechanical engineers” gradually evolved and changed, adapting to their era while looking to a “beyond” that led  them to discover new and improved machines and mechanisms that would become a new step on an endless flight of stairs


Antony Puthussery said...

Paper format and the flow of thought is good.

Please include some of the references.

Balaji V said...

The technical terms used, reveal the good active vocabulary of the writer. This is a well written essay about the history of machines and many facts that were just known are well described.

However, I would like to provide the following critical comments:

1.Perspective: As I understand, we need to provide the history of education in the selected field. The essay describes the evolution of Machines & Mechanical Engg. But, there is only one paragraph touching upon education.

2.Words usage: Arabs(In a formal way Arabians). "much before than in", "by well-known figures".

3.Grammar: Tenses could be uniformly adopted to past or present and not a mixture (contributes to the apparition – contributed to the apparition). Also, singular, plural usage (explanations. which dates from - explanations, which date from).

4. Punctuations: The essay requires quite a number of punctuations, capitalization of words & spacing.

Vinay Jha Pillai said...

First of all I would like to appreciate the author's effort in putting his thought very clearly.
It is interesting to know about Islamic contribution towards development of Mechanical Engineering. Author has been thoughtful and has structured the essay well.