Frank and Lillian Gilbreth
Frank and Lillian Gilbreth are names which will forever be associated with engineering and process improvement. They believed efficiency to be paramount in any process and also that once a decision is made regarding a particular method, it should be replicated everywhere. They were pioneers in their own right in the field of scientific industrial management and believed in the elimination of redundant steps in a process to improve efficiency.
Early Life, Work, and Contributions
Frank Gilbreth was born to John and Martha Gilbreth in Maine in the late 1860s. After the death of his father, the family moved to Massachusetts in the search for better education for the children. It was here that Frank took to math and science like fish to water and wrote the entrance exam for MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) but never went even after qualifying. Later in life, his studies on the motion to improve process efficacies among others would be renowned around the world as the pillars of modern scientific management.
His future wife, Lillian Gilbreth was born Lillian Moller to William and Annie Moller in the late 19th century. Unlike the parents of Frank, hers were wealthy ones with German ancestry. Like most well-off citizens at that time, Lillian was home-schooled. She began going to school later, only to rapidly outshine her peers at every grade. Later in life, her work married the science of psychology with engineering and industrial management.
Together, Frank and Lillian Gilbreth re-wrote industrial engineering and management for the history books. Never had the efficiency of process controls been so succinctly brought into the limelight to improve quality and cut production costs in the 20th century.
The Gilbreths’ Contributions To Industrial Management
It would near impossible to talk about all the couple’s contributions to the field of scientific industrial management, but a few worthwhile mentions would be their work in time and motion studies. By the early 20th century with Henry Ford’s moving assembly line, there were a lot of interesting studies going on around industrial management. Challenges spread across reducing costs while maintaining quality all done within a minimum time. Time reduction was the key catalyst in most of the advancements made at the time.
Both Frank and Lillian were owners of a company they founded together which delved in consultancy for industries and engineering houses. It was here that they began advanced experiments based on their belief that every process will have one and only one efficient way with a maximum output. They believed the answer lay in the balancing of the three main aspects of any production process: Motion, Time and Cost. Their method came to be known as the Gilbreth System and was one of the most important works in the space at the time.
Time, Motion And Fatigue Study – The study related to the various motions by a worker to complete a task can actually be broken down into very small movements. It was the brilliance of the couple that identified and leveraged motion pictures for the first time to study such movements. These movements are also associated with a minimum time required to execute them. Painstaking observations by Frank and Lillian over hours helped them to create a fixed set of movements for specific tasks.
These movements they believed were the minimum ones required to produce one efficient way to do a certain task. Efficiency was the key outcome they looked for in all of their studies. They came up with the minimum number of motions required per task and also sketched out drawings to illustrate the improvement the changes could make. They also studied the fatigue of the workers and how the motions could be optimized to reduce it. This was a new way of thinking where importance was given to the worker as well. With optimized movements came less fatigue which in turn improved the productivity of the worker. The drawings by the Gilbreths are still studied by engineers who are researching ways to improve process optimization processes at various manufacturing hubs.
It was the pioneering work of both Frank and Lillian Gilbreth that identified the inherent synergy between time, motion, and fatigue to change the field forever. Their micro-motion study will always be a stroke of brilliance which led to bleeding edge studies and deep analyses of industrial engineering. Their imprint on scientific management will forever be a standing legacy to quality and six sigma.