Motion study at
the Gilbreth laboratory
Frank Bunker Gilbreth (was born on July 7th, 1868 in Fairfield, Maine and died on June 14th,
1924 in Montclair, New Jersey, aged almost 56 years) and his wife Lillian Evelyn Gilbreth - Möller (born on May 24th, 1878 in Oakland, California and died on January 2nd, 1972 in Phoenix, Arizona, aged 93 years) are the founders of motion analysis. After Frank resigned from construction work in 1912, they were able to focus themselves fully and spent all their time on Scientific Management. He died suddenly of heart failure while making a telephone call on the railway station, leaving his wife behind with 11 children; daughter Mary already died in 1912.
They met each other, more or less by accident in 1903 (Frank as president of his own construction firm), were married in October 1904 and raised 12 children between 1905 and 1922: Anne, Mary, Ernestine, Martha, Frank Jr, William, Lillian, Fred, Daniel, John, Robert and Jane. In 1948, Ernestine and Frank Jr. would write the famous book “Cheaper by the Dozen”. In 1950 the film “Cheaper by the Dozen” was released based on the book.
Frank Sr start working when he was 16 years old as an assistant bricklayer, became contractor and ended up in management engineering. Later on he even became, by occasion, lecturer to the Purdue university.
He discoverd his vocation being a young contractor, when he tried to find a way to make bricklaying faster and easier. He observed that every bricklayer had come up with his own method of working, and not even two workers followed the same method. Soon, he divised and developed many improvements in construction work and in the organization and supply of materials of the work. He demonstrated f.i. that bricklaying could increased from 125 bnricks per hour to even 350 bricks per hour, by
- eliminating unnecessary movements
- supplying the bricks closer to the worker
- designing special movable and adjustable scaffolds.
It did not take long before the autodidacticle Gilbreth became boss of his own successfull contracting firm with offices in New York, Boston and London.
This resulted in cooperation with, what turned out to be his later wife, Lillian, who studied working habits of factory workers and administrative workers in all kinds of industry, to find ways to increase output and to make work lighter and easier. Frank and Lillian in 1912 founded a consulting company focussed on management consulting, the Gilbreth Inc. Lillian stood by her man and kept on stimulating him.
He observed and analyzed human motions and activities, movements and motions with film shots (little lamps on the wrists) with an accuracy of even 1/2000 seconds and made 3-dimensional models of copper wire. He divided these in the smallest possible elements, often consisting of no more than a simple single (finger) movement. Those smallest possible elements were classified in a limited number of catagories (18 catagories: Search (Sh), Find (Fi), Select (St), Transport Empty (TE), Grasp (G), Pre-position (Pp), Transport Loaded (TL), Position (P), Assemble (A), DisAssemble (DA), Release (Rl), Hold (H), Use (U), Plan (P), Inspect (I), Rest for overcoming fatigue (R), Unavoidable Delay (UD) and Avoidable Delay (AD)), which he named standard elements. To write these standard elements down quickly he came up with simple symbols to denote them, called therbligs. They also came up with the 2-hands analysis method called the SIMO-chart (simultaneous motion)
Now the problem emerged to find for each standard element the factors of influence and to determine the degree of influence. His intention was to determine synthetically the necessary time for each arbitrary motion or work from these standard elements. The big advantage would be that, in contrast of the disection of each work into many smaller, always different, parts, as in the Taylor system, now each work could be build up from ever the same standard elements. He wanted to achieve this by a worldwide international common labour effort.
He instructed his children a 10-finger typing system, (devised by himself), that resulted in many prices for them to win.
Frank was the first to propose to appoint a surgical nurse as “caddy” to hand over the prescribed instruments in the proper position inwhich they should be used by the surgeon. To that purpose he used his “Packet Principle” through which the nurses learned to make and lay ready the instruments in the same order as they would be used by the surgeon.
Also, he formulated standard techniques to train recruits to disassemble and reassemble their weapons fast, even in the dark or blind folded.
Because of the early death (heart failure) of Frank B. Gilbreth he was not able to work out his collection of data on times for his therbligs to a sound Pre-determined Elemental Motion Time System (PEMTS).
He was invited to address the International Management Committee in Prague, Chechoslovakia around 1923, but died just before. In his place Lilian took over and presented his speech.
He was a member of ASME and of the Taylor Society (predecessor of SAM) and lecturer on Purdue..
Lillian graduated at the university of California in Berkeley as a psychologist with a grade in English literature, a BA in 1900 and MA in 1903 and went for a Ph.D to the Brown university. She also was member of ASME and lectured on Purdue. She introduced psychology to management studies.
When Frank died Lillian continued the work of her husband Frank under his name and in their business (at that time women were not taken too seriously) and she and her children needed the money to survive. In 1948 Lillian was chosen “Woman of the Year”. In 1962 Frank (posthumously) and Lillian received the “Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Industrial Engineering Award, named after them.
Amongst the people that continued the principles of the Gilbreths are Ralph M. Barnes, Anne Shaw and Alan Mogenson.