Papers presented by Alain P. Michel since 2019

2023 Detroit, MI, United States

"Reinventing Detroit Motor Town in 1968 & rethinking historically today an unexpected case"

Alain Michel, Evry Paris Saclay University

Abstract:

Seven years after the reported event, the French automobile engineer Pierre Bézier testified to the effect produced in January 1968 by his keynote speech at Detroit before the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). “My text had been released by the SAE several weeks before the opening of the meeting, where I had the perilous honor of appearing as a curtain raiser. No doubt my paper had aroused some curiosity, because I spoke in front of an almost full room. At the very back, on either side of the main door, stood two compact groups. My colleague, who was our correspondent in the USA, told me that one belonged to Ford and the other to General Motors. People from Chrysler and people from Budd were also present”. Bézier’s paper on “How Renault uses numerical control for car body design and tooling” had aroused the curiosity of the participants of the Automotive Engineering Congress. His triumphant intervention was followed by a 4-day marathon at the invitation of the major American car manufacturers: on January 13, he was at Ford in Dearborn: the next day at GM in Flint, then at Budd in Philadelphia and last at Chrysler before returning to France. In his mission report, Pierre Bézier noticed that, despite a common idea at the time, digital developments were neither much advanced nor even well underway in America. In their attempts to digitize the design of bodywork, none of the rival companies had resolved “to link all the phases of the process of study and manufacture of bodywork”. Pierre Bézier offered a unique and unexpected solution that would later be at the heart of Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing (CAD/CAM). What was Bézier proposing to do differently ? This digital reinvention case questions the history of companies and innovations. It will serve as a proposal for a new historiographical focus on the invention process.

Keywords:

automation
automobile
biography
design
R&D

2022 Mexico City

"Biography as a measure of business complexity. Pierre Bézier’s career at Renault’s (1933-1975) and the contrast between an engineer’s creative projects and the management of a firm"

Alain Michel, University of Paris, Saclay and Evry University

Abstract:

My paper will present the case-study of Pierre Bézier (1910-1999) a former student-engineer of the Écoles des arts et métiers then of the École supérieure d’électricité who spent his entire career (1933-1975) as a key innovator in the Renault car company. Bézier was alternately the architect of an original form of electromechanical automation (1947), a pioneer in Europe of digital control (1958), and last, one of the world founders of industrial computing (1966). The “Bézier curves and surfaces” are the roots of Computer-Aided Design and Manufacturing (CADM) that have reorganized industrial drawing, mass production and our virtual world. Why has this key engineer remained an “unknown celebrity”? Why couldn’t the Renault automobile company cope - over the long run - with the successive disruptions introduced by one of its most inventive engineer ? And on another side, why didn’t Pierre Bézier decide to leave his firm and start a new business. What made it so uncertain to become the entrepreneur of his own inventions. By comparing the company's archives with the engineer’s personal documents, the paper measures the fate of a brilliant electromechanical innovator by the yardstick of his factory’s transformations. It shows how the story of a person can renew our understanding of the past of a firm. How can a biography serve a better historical understanding of business complexity.

Keywords:

automation
automobile
biography
information technology
technology