Engineering 100 Years from Now

The Journal of the Society of Automotive Engineers
Excerpts from talk presented before SAE Council at its June 7, 1956, meeting in Atlantic City.
A. Kucher, Ford Motor Co.

Numerous guideposts exist which point the way for reasonable assumptions for extrapolating engineering progress in industry between 1956 and 2056.

For one thing, the future demands of each of us an increasing respect and regard and recognition of the abilities of others...and thereby the full utilization of convergent knowledge through collaboration and cooperation.

Each of us can possess but a minute fraction of accumulated knowledge. So, we are increasingly dependent upon intimate association with others who possess related knowledge and ability. We are making progress, but much remains to be done to remove artificial barriers mainly generated by intolerance toward new concepts and a lingering resistance to change.

Many people resist change and innovation, not so much because they fear a new approach, but because to accept the new they must first give up the old.

A second area in which giant strides can be expected is that to be made by American industry in adapting automation on a truly broad basis. This will give enormous capability to produce more things better with less manual effort and less cost. A comparable parallel increase in the standard of living is, of course, inevitable. As an extra dividend, it is easy to predict that new opportunities and new things will be provided for our expanding population. Beyond the realm of atomic energy, the harnessing of solar energy through photosynthesis already points the way to limitless supply of food and energy.

We are busy finding better ways of converting heat into mechanical energy....We are developing new, high-strength, high-temperature, corrosion-resistant, low-cost materials for application to our present and future demands....Such things as colored television, vertical ascension aircraft, supersonic flight, and earth satellites are mundane.

Let us assume that by the year 2056 man will require 28 times the present power input for a world population increased from the present 2.5 billion to 6 billion....Next, assume that by employing all forms of available energy the needed supply of primary energy exists.

Of vastly greater economic significance than the means for producing the energy is the means of consuming the energy....To approach the American standard of living other peoples must consume power at something like the rate we do-and that means using a lot of light bulbs, heaters, tractors, automobiles, and so forth.

The enormous problem confronting industrial engineering is:

1.To produce machines that produce the energy
2.To produce the machines and devices to consume the energy
How do we go about it?

Based on population growth alone, a quadrupling of technically trained people will be required. The demand already far exceeds the ability of the academic fraternity to provide. The solution requires the concerted efforts of the university, industry, and government.

Within the Next 100 Years...
...some of the things which appear feasible in the area of engineering progress include the possibilities listed below.

1. The future of materials will be limited largely to four metallic elements-iron, aluminum, magnesium, and titanium; and one semi-metal-silicon; for major construction. The other elements are becoming scarcer and, therefore, too costly for use even as alloying agents. Copper, for example, is already more expensive than aluminum and may be restricted to electrical uses only. The present position of titanium cost-wise is very likely to change in the future and may easily compete with stainless steel.
2. Materials for use in the 2000 to 3000 F range will undoubtedly be developed. Ceramics or ceramic metal compounds capable of standing rapid temperature changes will be commonplace. Metals in general will be produced to realize a bigger fraction of their theoretical strength. For example, the theoretical strength of present-day steels may be raised from 100,000 psi to about 1 million psi resulting in lighter and stronger structures.
3.Engineers will build it or remove dislocation and impurities so that the resulting material will have precisely the properties required. It will no longer be necessary to adapt systems to materials. On the contrary, the engineer will write a prescription for a material, hand it to the metallurgist, and he will compound the material in a fashion reminiscent of modern pharmacy.
4.By 2056, scientists will have long learned how to control the thermonuclear reaction. New furnaces will be available to the metallurgist-furnaces with temperatures in excess of 10 million degrees. By means of these new furnaces, scientists will be able to take a common material, for example, sand, and break it down into elementary entities and then resynthesize it into material of structural and electrical value.
5.Scientists will have learned about the ultimate particles in nature and with this knowledge will have learned how to utilize them.
6.Silicon, one of the most plentiful of materials, will be used as an electronic device to harness the free electrons. The efficiency of such devices will be increased to an extent that they will be widely used to convert solar energy into electrical energy, tapping an almost inexhaustible supply of energy.
7.One can conceive of cars run by electrical power generated by atomic reactors and propagated by microwave beams directed toward the car. The engine will consist of semi-conducting devices and motors of unusual design made of materials whose magnetic properties exceed those now known. Man will no longer depend upon human response time and, therefore, all control functions will be electronic. Industrial engineers will incorporate these response functions into sealed devices having complete dependability. The degree of precision of mechanical devices will be expressed in angstroms rather than parts of an inch.
8.The quality of all products will have improved to a degree that those of us who are familiar with aircraft gadgetry can relax in complete tranquility. Such things as miniature turbo machines to power vehicles, which we now look upon as a thing of the future, will be as commonplace in the not too distant future as the covered wagon was not many years ago.
10.Without doubt, individual transportation in the third dimension will compete with wheeled and wheelless ground vehicles. As yet unrealized is the ideal polymer, resistant to heat, corrosion resistant, able to withstand useable loads far in excess of yield loads of present-day metallic materials. The ingredients of this polymer are yet to be found; however, there is good theoretical reason for believing that they will be found.
11.The age of the electronic brain is nearly, but not quite, upon us. Computing machines are still too cumbersome and expensive to be used for all but the most exacting, complicated, and indispensable tasks, yet one can already visualize electrical memory devices and information storage mechanisms requiring but a small volume, easily portable, and inexpensive.
12.Already the impetus for effecting a transformation in graphic records has been generated and research is underway for providing automatic electronic equipment for recording and storing information and, more importantly, for selectively searching and coordinating such information for broad ranges of complex subject matter. A further aspect of this research is the development of an apparatus for language translation. The engineer and scientist of the future will be able not only to dial into a machine for a bibliography of references on a subject of interest to him, but also to push a button and have a transcription presented to him. Industrial chemistry will be developed to a point where a new chemical can be developed by feeding a set of specifications to a calculator and the required structure and synthesis will be promptly indicated by the machine. The products, whether they are plastic, glass, or other materials, will have unheard of strength and durability because the invisible flaws which now cause all materials to exhibit only a fraction of their theoretical strength will have long since been eliminated. Voice writers and voice files will have been engineered into office use.
13.Steel, stone, wood, and other materials will be removed or cut by ultrasonic or electronic means at a rate and with a precision unheard of by present methods.

I believe that the historian of the future in evaluating the basic factors that have influenced human progress most will point to engineering during 1956 to 2056 and proclaim this century the golden years of engineering process.