Frank Gilbreth: biography of this engineer and researcher.
A summary of the life of Frank Bunker Gilbreth, pioneer of the scientific organization of work.
The end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century saw the arrival of the second industrial revolution and with it a technification of industrial processes.
To better understand some of the methodologies that emerged and that gave a boost to factories, it is necessary to study the life of figures such as Frank Gilbreth. In these paragraphs we will learn about his life and his main contributions to the labor sciences and more specifically to industrial engineering, through a biography of Frank Gilbreth.
Brief biography of Frank Bunker Gilbreth
Frank Bunker Gilbreth was born in Fairfield, belonging to the state of Maine in the USA, in the year 1868. His origins were very humble, as his mother taught at a nearby school and his father combined his work as a cattle rancher with his job in a hardware store. In addition, his father died when Frank Gilbrecht was a child, his father died when Frank Gilbreth was very young, as he was only three years old.He was only three years old when this tragic event took place. After his father's death, the family decided to move to Andover, Massachusetts.
His father's inheritance vanished in a few yearsFrank Gilbreth's mother's salary as a teacher was not enough to support her family, considering the exclusive schools she took her children to.
Therefore, she made the decision to move again, this time to Boston, in search of quality public schools where the children could continue their studies without the large financial outlay she had to make in her previous location.
Youth and early innovations
Frank Gilbreth was not an outstanding student at school, although he gradually became more focused on studying, He was especially attracted to subjects that had to do with mathematics and science.. So much so that he even took the tests to enter the prestigious MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), but the economic situation of his home made him finally give it up and instead began to work to alleviate the financial pressure suffered by his mother.
Thus, at the age of 17, he started his first job, as a bricklayer no less, through the mediation of a former teacher. And this point was key in Frank Gilbreth's life for his future contributions, since working as a laborer allowed him to observe the many ways to perform any task, no matter how simple it was, and he was always interested in finding ways to optimize all of them to the maximum. Thus, Gilbreth worked his way up and up, all the while studying at night.
With that perseverance and effort, Frank Gilbreth, In just five years, he was promoted to superintendent, which finally relieved the household's financial situation.. And it was here that he began a period of innovation for the industry, thanks to his alert mind and his own experience. The first patent he launched was that of a vertical scaffolding, whose purpose was to allow the worker to always have the pile of bricks accessible at the level where he was working, without having to move constantly.
He also improved the structures in which the workers worked, waterproofing them. He also took it upon himself to perfect concrete work. In his meteoric rise in the industry, he became a member of ASME, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and rose as high as he could in the company, becoming chief superintendent. However, Renton Whidden, a former teacher and boss for a decade, did not give him the opportunity to become a partner, so Frank Gilbreth set out on his own adventure.
Career development: Gilbreth Inc.
A period of growth begins for Frank Gilbreth. Already an administrative engineer, he continues to file patents for different inventions.During this time, he also began working as a contractor in the construction industry, and even became a professor at Purdue University.
During this time he also married Lillian Moller married Lillian Moller, an industrial engineer and psychologistLillian Moller, an industrial engineer and psychologist, who will also be his partner in later work and research.
As a contractor, Frank Gilbreth continues to think of ways to make masonry work more efficient. For these issues, the work of his wife is vital, thanks to her studies.
So the two of them founded Gilbreth Inc. founded Gilbreth Inc. a management consultancy specializing in optimizing company procedures.. Frank Gilbreth and his wife are in charge of designing the work plans for the construction of such important buildings as the Simmons Hardware Company's Sioux City warehouse.
The construction plan for this enormous building was perfect for putting into practice all the studies of Frank Gilbreth and his wife.
Both the construction of the block itself, as well as the design of the facilities so that the corresponding tasks of the operators could be carried out inside it in a totally efficient way, optimizing the flow of incoming and outgoing materials, through a system of railroad tracks where they managed the arrival and departure of wagons.
In 1917, the United States entered the First World War, which had been raging in Europe since 1914. During this period of war, Frank Gilbreth was hired by the government to apply his knowledge of industrial engineering to the armaments industry..
To this end, he developed a method consisting of the 17 basic movements required to assemble and disassemble a weapon, with total optimization. He used video cameras to create this procedure. He named 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 reassemble their weapons even while blindfolded, and this could be extrapolated to the "therblig" method.This could be extrapolated to conditions of low visibility in the trenches or times when they could not look directly due to the battle situation. In other words, through the 17 basic movements, he somewhat perfected the way war was waged.
Frank Gilbreth had already brought his expertise in the study of movement to the construction and war industry. But his contribution did not end there.
He also He also brought this knowledge to health care, as he was the one who proposed the figure of the assistant in operating theaters.The idea was that one person would be in charge of delivering all the instruments to the surgeon as they were needed, so that he would not have to move or lose concentration in a task of such precision.
Although many people associate these contributions with those of Frederick Taylor and his Taylorism, the truth is that this trend was aimed at minimizing production times, while Frank Gilbreth sought total optimization and efficiency by performing the right number of movements to perform a task. Although both methodologies may have parts in common and even overlap in some procedures, the truth is that they are different conceptualizations.
This difference of visions even resulted in a certain personal enmity between both families and some disputes at a commercial level for some of the patents that both registered. In the years following Frank Gilbreth's death, Lillian endeavored to end these quarrels and restore a cordial relationship between her family and that of Frederick Taylor.
Frank Gilbreth and his wife's studies brought another contribution, and that is that, by reducing the movements of the operators, they also the fatigue they experienced during their working day was also reduced..
This was achieved not only by proposing fewer movements for the task, but also by proposing new designs for some tools, and by placing the elements necessary for the work in certain positions and heights. In other words, he was creating ergonomics at work.
Death and legacy
Frank Gerbreth died in 1924, at the age of 55, of a Heart attack, leaving Lillian Gerbreth, his widow, Lillian Gerbreth's widow, Lillian Gerbreth's widow.He left Lillian as a widow and his twelve children as orphans. The fact is that both had formed an extended family that had also allowed them to put into practice and perfect some of their optimization techniques, since they had twelve perfect participants in their own home for all their experiments.
Thanks to these tests, one of his sons wrote, as an adult, the famous work Cheaper by the Dozen, or Twelve at Home, which even had its film version, and is part of Frank Gilbreth's legacy, along with all his contributions to industrial engineering, ergonomics and the improvement of different production processes. Undoubtedly, a key figure for the evolution of the way of working, both in factories and in a multitude of professions.
- Baumgart, A., Neuhauser, D. (2009). Frank and Lillian Gilbreth: scientific management in the operating room. BMJ Quality & Safety.
- Nadworny, M.J. (1957). Frederick Taylor and Frank Gilbreth: competition in scientific management. The Business History Review.
- Price, B. (1990). Frank and Lillian Gilbreth and the motion study controversy, 1907-1930. A Mental Revolution: Scientific Management Since Taylor.