Brunel's shaping engine, 1820.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
Engraving by Lowry after J Farey Junior, plate six from Vol 2 of 'The cyclopaedia; or, universal dictionary of arts, sciences, and literature' by Abraham Rees, (London, 1820). French-born engineer Marc Isambard Brunel (1769-1849) revolutionised the manufacture of ships' pulley blocks for the Navy. Brunel's design enabled a series of machines to perform their operations without the need for skilled labour, apart from that needed to move the pieces and place them in the machines. Each Portsmouth machine carried out a single proces so that forty-five machines were needed to complete the parts for blocks for all sizes. In this shaping engine ten blocks were held at once in a rotating drum, and had their faces rounded by a cutter guided by a template.