A Counter-Example to the Claim that Performance of Machines Evolves Along the S-curve

Y. B. Karasik
Thought Guiding Systems Corp.,
Ottawa, Canada.

As I mentioned elsewhere, Altshuller authored a claim that main characteristics (e.g. performance) of machines evolve along the S-curve, without ever collecting and plotting any data supporting it.

I decided to check the claim on the example of evolution of steam engines. While reading literature on them, I learned that before Watt, steam engines (of Newcomen type) were mostly employed in mines to pump water from them. Accordingly, their performance was measured by the amount of water raised 1 feet per 1 bushel of coal burned. This measure was called "duty" of the engine.

Duty remained the main characteristic of the performance of steam engines even after Watt because employing machines in mines to pump water still remained a large portion of their market (if not the largest one) throughout the first half of XIX century.

There is a region in Cornwall (England) called Cornish which mines were especially deep and which used to be first in employing new steam engines in XVIII and XIX centuries. Moreover, the further advance of steam engines after Watt was mostly due to the effort of the engineers of the Cornish mines (such as Woolf, Grose, Trevithick, etc).

Beginning 1811 the Cornish engineers regularly measured and published the Duty of all new engines built. Based on their publications, the graph of the evolution of the steam engines' Duty was plotted by A. Nuvolari [1]. Here is the graph:

As one can see, it has no resemblance of the S-curve !

R E F E R E N C E S:

  1. A. Nuvolari, "Collective invention during the British Industrial Revolution: the case of the Cornish pumping engine", Cambridge Journal of Economics, Volume 28, Number 3, 2004, pp. 347-363.