The History of Factory Presses: Where It Started and Where It’s Going

Factory presses are essential technology that changed manufacturing and assembly in significant ways. Many of the items we use and rely on every day, from cars to home appliances to agricultural equipment and much more, have parts made from factory press processes. But how did this start? How was the first press used and invented? And where is press technology going next?

The History of Factory Presses: Where It Started

Before factory presses, the process of shaping, cutting, and manipulating metal was extremely time-consuming and energy intensive. Mostly, this process required hours of heating and manual hammering. The invention of the factory press helped to simplify this process, and also opened a whole new world of metal fabrication possibilities. The power that a person or even a group of people can exert is small compared to the hundreds or even thousands of tons of force that a press can apply.

There are many different types of presses, and the history of factory presses is somewhat complex. We’ve simplified the history of factory presses somewhat and highlighted a few notable inventions and moments that led to the press technology of today.

Early Presses and Coin Minting

Some of the first metal presses were used for minting coins in the 1500’s. These presses used a screw and heavy counterweights to create force. This early technology was derived from existing non-metal pressing operations around 1506 and spread throughout Europe over the next 100 years. Over the next several centuries, the minting press continued to evolve and became widely adopted and used over time until the 1900’s.

The 19th century saw many developments in press technology. During this time, various types of presses were being developed for other uses throughout the world, including the eccentric press, friction press, steam press, etc. These presses were used to fabricate a variety of different items, from nails to kitchen utensils to steam engine parts and more.

The First Hydraulic Presses

Hydraulic technology was a major milestone in the history of factory presses. Joseph Bramah patented his design for the first hydraulic press in 1795. Using Pascal’s Law, the hydraulic press compresses fluid in a closed system to generate force. The first hydraulic press didn’t generate much pressure and therefore not much force, but others, like Jacques and Auguste Perier and John Haswell, improved on the design to make it more powerful. These developments also included additional designs, like the Carver Model C press, which extended the versatility and use of the hydraulic press.

WWII and Magnesium Presses

World War I and World War II required a great deal of metal work and fabrication for guns, tanks, planes, ships, submarines, and more. During this time, Germany had access to large magnesium reserves, but did not have much access to iron. This required a new fabrication process, like speed hot forming, that was suitable for magnesium, which does not behave like iron. This led to the creation of heavy presses for very large aircraft and tank components.

The Cold War and the Heavy Press Program

After WWII, the Soviet Union gained significant factory press technology, which was a concern for the United States as the Cold War developed. The ability to fabricate large parts, especially those for armaments, became a high priority for both countries. This led to the US’s Heavy Press Program in 1950, which funded the creation of extremely heavy presses. One of these presses provided 50,000 tons of force, and eight other presses from this program are still in operation.

Modern Presses

Today, there are dozens of different types of presses that are used for a wide variety of jobs. Some of these are similar to the extremely heavy presses made in the Heavy Press Program, and are now made all over the world. Much, much smaller presses are accessible to hobbyists and individual mechanists, and a wide variety of other presses are used by manufacturers to make auto parts, appliance components, construction materials, medical equipment, and more.

From enormous, 80,000 ton presses manufacturing aerospace and mining components to exact, highly specialized presses for making delicate medical equipment and electronics to small, benchtop presses for hobbyists, the extent and versatility of modern factory presses is truly impressive. Where is this technology heading next?

The Future of Factory Presses: Where It’s Going

Automated Factory Presses

Automation is an ongoing development across manufacturing, and is augmenting many factory presses, too. Since the first presses were used hundreds of years ago, humans always had to set up and operate the presses. Automation makes it possible for machines and computers to set up and operate factory presses with minimal human intervention.

The increasing use of automation means humans may not have to perform the repetitive and potentially dangerous jobs that have previously been essential to manufacturing throughout each era in the Industrial Revolution. The use of automation will, undoubtedly, continue to grow and augment factory presses around the world, leading, hopefully, to faster, safer, more efficient factories.

Data-Driven Presses

The development of sensors, data-gathering, and data-crunching technologies has enabled presses to become much more precise, accurate, and even self-correcting. These technologies give operators information about how the press is working, which can help prevent inaccuracies, material waste, excess maintenance, and more.

As data-gathering and analysis technology becomes more affordable and accessible, more and more factory presses are likely to use them. This will make factory presses increasingly more accurate, more efficient, easier to maintain, and easier to operate over time.

Take a look at our Force & Distance Monitoring Presses for Data-Driven Air-Over-Oil Efficiency › 

Greater Sustainability & Use of Green Energy

It is no secret that changes must be made on all fronts toward a greener, more sustainable operation of modern society, and this is especially true in manufacturing. Industrial companies are being called on to manage their energy usage and carbon footprint worldwide. This currently includes a shift towards more pneumatic and electric powered machines, but we will likely continue to see increases in the availability of greener press options over time. Going forward, modern-day engineers and press designers will likely focus heavily on coming up with new technology for maintaining production with long-term sustainability in mind.

Make a Sustainable Choice for Your Next Press

Air Hydraulics offers several press models that offer substantial reduction to energy use, greater efficiency and overall cost savings compared to hydraulic equipment. Make a sustainable choice for your next press. 

The history of factory presses goes back longer than most people might assume. Over hundreds of years, multiple different people and events have contributed to the evolution of factory presses. This technology will continue to grow in impressive ways, and will continue to improve manufacturing, fabrication, assembly, and more.