A factory (previously manufactory) or manufacturing plant is an industrial building where workers manufacture goods or supervise machines processing one product into another. Most modern factories have large warehouses or warehouse-like facilities that contain heavy equipment used for assembly line production. Archetypally, factories gather and concentrate resources — workers, capital and plant.
The first industrial complex for glass and pottery production was built in Ar-Raqqah, Syria, in the 8th century. Extensive experimentation was carried out at the complex, which was two kilometres in length, and a variety of innovative high-purity glass were developed there. Two other similar complexes have also been discovered, and nearly three hundred new chemical recipes for glass are known to have been produced at all three sites. The first glass factories were thus built by Muslim craftsmen in the medieval Islamic world. The first glass factories in Europe were later built in the 11th century by Egyptian craftsmen in Corinth, Greece.
The first factory milling installations were built by Muslim engineers throughout every city and urban community in the Muslim world. For example, the factory milling complex in 10th century Baghdad could produce 10 tonnes of flour every day. The first large milling installations in Europe were built in 12th century Islamic Spain. The first sugar refineries were also built by Muslim engineers. They were first driven by water mills, and then windmills from the 9th and 10th centuries in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran.
Many historians regard Matthew Boulton's Soho Manufactory (established in 1761 in Birmingham) as the first modern factory. (Other claims might be made for John Lombe's silk mill in Derby (1721), or Richard Arkwright's Cromford Mill (1771)—purpose built to fit the equipment it held and taking the material through the various manufacturing processes.) One historian, Jack Weatherford, contends that the first factory was in Potosí, for processing silver ingot slugs into coins, because there was so much silver being mined close by. . See City and Factory Life for more background concerning conditions of work.
British colonies in the late 18th century built factories simply as buildings where a large number of workers gathered to perform hand labor, usually in textile production. This proved more efficient – for administration and for the distribution of raw materials to individual workers – than earlier methods of manufacturing such as cottage industries or the putting-out system.
Cotton mills used inventions such as the steam engine and the power loom to pioneer the industrial factory of the 19th century, where precision machine tools and replaceable parts allowed greater efficiency and less waste.
Between 1820 and 1850, the non-mechanized factories supplanted the traditional artisanal shops as the predominant form of manufacturing institution. Even though the theory on why and how the non-mechanized factories gradually replaced the small artisan shops is still ambiguous, what is apparent is that the larger-scale factories enjoyed technological gains and advance in efficiency over the small artisan shops. In fact, the larger scale forms of factory establishments were more favorable and advantageous over the small artisan shops in terms of competition for survival.
Henry Ford further revolutionized the factory concept in the early 20th century, with the innovation of mass production. Highly specialized workers situated alongside a series of rolling ramps would build up a product such as (in Ford's case) an automobile. This concept dramatically decreased production costs for virtually all manufactured goods and brought about the age of consumerism.
In the mid- to late 20th century, industrialized countries introduced next-generation factories with two improvements:
Before the advent of mass transportation, factories' needs for ever-greater concentrations of workers meant that they typically grew up in an urban setting or fostered their own urbanization. Industrial slums developed, and reinforced their own development through the interactions between factories, as when one factory's output or waste-product became the raw materials of another factory (preferably nearby). Canals and railways grew as factories spread, each clustering around sources of cheap energy, available materials and/or mass markets. The exception proved the rule: even greenfield factory sites such as Bournville, founded in a rural setting, developed its own housing and profited from convenient communications networks.
Regulation curbed some of the worst excesses of industrialization's factory-based society, a series of Factory Acts leading the way in Britain. Trams, automobiles and town planning encouraged the separate development of industrial suburbs and residential suburbs, with workers commuting between them.
Though factories dominated the Industrial Era, the growth in the service sector eventually began to dethrone them: the locus of work in general shifted to central-city office towers or to semi-rural campus-style establishments, and many factories stood deserted in local rust belts.
The next blow to the traditional factories came from globalization. Manufacturing processes (or their logical successors, assembly plants) in the late 20th century re-focussed in many instances on Special Economic Zones in developing countries or on maquiladoras just across the national boundaries of industrialized states. Further re-location to the least industrialized nations appears possible as the benefits of out-sourcing and the lessons of flexible location apply in the future.
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