In Memoriam: M. Eugene Merchant OPEN ACCESS

[+] Author and Article Information
Ranga Komanduri

Stillwater, OK

J. Manuf. Sci. Eng 128(4), 1034-1036 (Nov 01, 2006) (3 pages) doi:10.1115/1.2372521 History:

Mylon Eugene Merchant (affectionately known to all as Gene Merchant): a philosopher and a prophet of manufacturing; a giant amongst the giants in the field of manufacturing; a visionary who foresaw the role of computers and developed groundbreaking concepts for computer integrated manufacturing (CIM) linking CAD with CAM (long before computers have become easily accessible and popular); a pioneer in metal cutting research who transformed the art of metal cutting to the science of metal cutting with his basic theory of the mechanics of metal cutting and the famous Merchant circle; an ambassador and a globe trotter in search of the latest advances in manufacturing worldwide; a pioneer in tribology who developed original concepts on the real area of contact between two sliding members and its role in sliding friction; and finally, a person who was deeply concerned with the environmental and human aspects of manufacturing, passed away on August 19, 2006 at Deupree Terrace in Cincinnati, OH. He was born in Springfield, MA on May 6, 1913. Gene's father was a congregational minister, whose sojourn took the family to settle in the Green Mountains of Vermont. He was married for 69 years to his wonderful wife, Helen S. Bennett of Baltimore in 1937, and settled in Cincinnati.

Gene had his early schooling in Essex Junction, VT. He graduated magna cum laude with a BS degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Vermont in 1936. Gene received a graduate fellowship at the University of Cincinnati, sponsored by the Cincinnati Milling Machine Company (now Cincinnati Milacron, also called the “Mill”) on a unique four-year co-op program, where a student spends six months in school and six months in industry. It may be noted that Milton Shaw, Bob Hahn, Mike Field, and others also joined the same program, all great in their own fields and all working under the late Hans Ernst, the Director of Research at the Mill.

Gene began his long and illustrious career at Cincinnati Milling Company in 1936. After the retirement of Hans Ernst, Gene became the Director of Physical Research, where he created a world-class research laboratory to investigate various manufacturing processes. Later on in the early 1960s, as Milacron's Principal Scientist for Manufacturing Research, Gene took a visionary role of integrating computers with manufacturing and design with manufacturing, at a time when computers were in their infancy and software development was extremely difficult. In 1983, at age 70, Gene retired from Milacron and joined Metcut Research Associates. From 1990, Gene joined TechSolve (formerly the Institute of Advanced Manufacturing Sciences (IAMS), a non-profit, manufacturing consulting firm in Cincinnati) as a senior consultant, a role he played until the very end. In the following, five of Gene's pioneering contributions, namely, to tribology, to the basic mechanics of metal cutting, to computer integrated manufacturing (CIM), to the globalization of manufacturing, and to the environmental and human aspects of manufacturing, will be briefly summarized.

Tribology. In 1936, Hans Ernst was studying the physics of metal cutting. He was intrigued by the frictional conditions at the chip-tool interface in cutting and suggested to Gene “the investigation of friction between chemically clean metal surfaces (akin to the conditions at the chip-tool contact in metal cutting)” as a thesis topic. Based on his experimental research, Gene postulated that the real area of contact between two opposing surfaces in sliding contact is usually a very small fraction of the apparent area of contact and the opposing asperities will deform plastically instead of elastically. Consequently, the resulting area of interface will be proportional to load, as in hardness testing. He also introduced the role of surface roughness in friction. He demonstrated experimentally that the friction coefficient can be as large as unity in the case of very clean metals under sliding contact similar to the conditions experienced at the chip-tool contact in metal cutting. He independently developed an adhesive theory of friction, very similar to the one developed by the late Professor David Tabor of Cambridge University in the UK, and at about the same time (1). For this work, Gene received an Sc.D. from the University of Cincinnati. In a way, Gene was a tribologist first before he became a metal cutting expert. For his contributions to tribology, Gene received the Tribology Gold Medal from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (London) in the UK in 1980. He was also recognized by the American Society of Lubrication Engineers (ASLE) (now STLE) as an honorary member and its president.

Mechanics of Metal Cutting. Gene's doctoral work on the fundamentals of friction as well as numerous discussions he had with Hans Ernst led him to the development of the mechanics of the chip formation process. He applied the mechanics of solid bodies under applied loads by considering the chip in static equilibrium acted upon by two equal, opposite, and collinear forces—one acting on the shear plane and the other acting on the tool face (Fig. 1). He condensed this into a single diagram known today as the Merchant's Circle (Fig. 2). The outcome of this is the science-based, predictive model of the basic mechanics of chip formation process—the first of its kind—and one which enabled calculation of various forces, stresses, velocities, strains, strain-rates, and energies involved in metal cutting (2-4). This simple model is still widely used and is the basis for much of the metal cutting research, if not all of the research that followed. This pioneering work has also led to an exponential increase in the interest amongst researchers on the basic mechanics of chip formation process in machining. For a perspective on Gene's contributions to machining vis-à-vis other researchers, the reader is referred to Refs. 5-6. Reference 6 is perhaps the last paper Gene wrote on this subject wherein he elegantly presented the evolution of machining in the U.S. in the 20th century, based on his other work (5).

Computer Integrated Manufacturing (CIM). When computers were first introduced, Gene recognized their potential and visualized a system that integrates design with manufacturing using computers. He advocated that everything should be integrated, so that CAD, CAM, and other types of software are not developed as independent technologies (7). He reiterated that for CIM to work, they have to be fully integrated. His philosophy of computer-integrated manufacturing, developed in early 1960s, has become the standard operating practice for manufacturers all over the globe. For his epoch-making contributions to this field, Gene was inducted into the Automation Hall of Fame at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, a coveted distinction of one of only 25 people.

Globalization of Manufacturing. Gene strongly believed in globalization of manufacturing long before it became a fad. He was a globe trotter in search of latest advances in manufacturing worldwide for over 50 years, and a strong proponent of globalization of manufacturing, an inevitable thing that is happening today. He envisioned the CIM system to be capable of operating as a holonic system in which “every entity—machines, software, people, and all the entities involved in a manufacturing enterprise—can communicate and cooperate totally with every other entity in the system, whether it is a machine, a person, a piece of software, or whatever. This concept requires that entities in a system give up a part of their autonomy and become a partner in making the system operate in an optimized way. The big thing that has to be done to have a truly global manufacturing capability is development of a system and technology that enables anyone in any part of a global manufacturing enterprise to communicate, collaborate, and cooperate fully with anyone else in the system, anywhere in the world, just as though they were in the same room face to face.” For his overarching abilities, Gene was held in high esteem by colleagues worldwide. Red carpets were rolled out no matter which university, industry, or national laboratory he visited in any country of the world, as he was regarded as a goodwill ambassador for manufacturing.

Environmental and Human Concerns in Manufacturing. Gene identified some 25 years ago that a major revolution would be underway in the environmental and human aspects of manufacturing (8). This in turn would generate a revolution in manufacturing technology. “The main goal of this revolution,” according to Gene, “is to satisfy the now clearly recognized human need for the nature of manufacturing to be such as to assure that the worker will experience deep satisfaction from the performance of his job and will not be subjected to unpleasant, harmful, potentially dangerous, or debilitating conditions on his job. The main goal of the resulting revolution in manufacturing technology is the development and implementation of the fully computer-automated factory in which an operator is called upon to utilize his/her unique creative-type of abilities through the highly satisfying activity of participation in decision-making at all levels, while machines perform all unpleasant, harmful, potentially dangerous, boringly repetitious, or severely fatiguing activities.” Gene stipulated two key conditions that must be met to make the most of technology and human resources. “First, the application of technology must be so engineered as to support the individuals who will use it, and not in a way which will require the user to support it. Second, every individual in the company must be enabled, empowered, and motivated to communicate and cooperate fully with every other individual in the company. Failure to satisfy these conditions hobbles the performance of both the technology and the company's human resources.” These concepts are now slowly seeping into the manufacturing world, and the industry is recognizing the fundamental human values of society in particular and civilization in general.

Gene served in leadership roles in many organizations. This includes president of the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), the American Society of Lubrication Engineers (ASLE) (now the Society of Tribology and Lubrication Engineers (STLE)), and the International Institution for Production Engineering Research (French abbreviation is CIRP), as well as Vice-President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). He was an honorary member of SME, ASME, and CIRP. Gene was very active in the activities of the Production Engineering Division (now Manufacturing Division) of ASME.

Gene's numerous honors fall into two categories—one, the awards he received for his contributions, and the other that bear his name for his pioneering contributions to manufacturing. For his outstanding contributions to manufacturing, Gene was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1975. His numerous awards in the first category include Cincinnati's Engineer of the Year award in 1955; the SME Frederick W. Taylor Medal of SME in 1968; the American Machinist's AM Award in 1980; the Tribology Gold Medal of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (London), UK in 1980; the Charles Russ Richards Memorial award of ASME in 1959; the Otto Benedikt Prize of the Computers and Automation Institute of Hungary; the Medal of the Polish Institute of Metal Cutting; the City of Berlin's George Schlesinger Prize in 1980; and recently the first Japan Society of Precision Engineering (JSPE) prize for a lifetime of internationally recognized innovations in the manufacturing engineering, among others. He received honorary Doctorate degrees from the University of Vermont (1973), the University of Salford, UK (1980), and the GMI Engineering and Management Institute (1994). In 2006, Gene was honored with the Spirit of Scouting Award for his 80-year affiliation with the Boys Scouts of America.

Those awards that bear his name include the M. Eugene Merchant Manufacturing Medal of ASME/SME established in 1986, to be awarded to a person who made significant contributions in improving the productivity and efficiency of manufacturing operations. Gene was the first recipient of this award, and this award appears to be rather special to him. He participated in the selection of the candidate each year, and congratulated the recipient first by letter after the announcement and then in person during the annual ASME Congress, where the award was formally given. Another award is the M. Eugene Merchant Manufacturing Textbook Award of SME, which is given annually to author(s) of an outstanding textbook in manufacturing. Another award that was associated with Gene is the SME Young Manufacturing Engineer award, given annually to outstanding manufacturing researchers under 35.

Gene's trademark attributes: always smiling, always sitting in the first row of the conference and paying attention to details, very unassuming, always willing to listen and never brag about his accomplishments, always generous and kind when meeting fellow researchers, young and not so young, some for the first time. Mr. Harry Stone of TechSolve summarized it this way: “Gene Merchant is a mentor's mentor who has boundless generosity, both when it comes to sharing his knowledge, and to sharing the spotlight.” Gene was truly a gentleman and a scholar and we in the manufacturing research community all around the world will miss this great man. May his soul rest in peace and tranquility.


Copyright © 2006 by American Society of Mechanical Engineers
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Grahic Jump Location
Figure 3

M. Eugene Merchant May 6, 1913–August 19, 2006

Grahic Jump Location
Figure 1

Force system acting on the chip in stable mechanical equilibrium

Grahic Jump Location
Figure 2

Condensed Merchant's circle diagram showing relationships between various components of the forces




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