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What is a Stationary Engine?

Lori Kilchermann
Lori Kilchermann

A stationary engine is one that is mounted in a permanent location and is used to power a piece of equipment. While the earliest stationary engines were steam powered, modern technology has helped diesel versions to be the most common in use today worldwide. The most common use of the stationary engine today is water pumping or electrical generator focused. Some very old manufacturing plants still operate with a stationary engine driving tools at different work stations throughout the plant via a system of belts and pulleys.

The stationary engine worked well for manufacturing plants due to the simplicity of the power plant. A single mechanic working on a single engine could maintain operations throughout the entire plant. The downside, of course, is that any engine failure would cease production in the entire manufacturing facility. Some of the larger plants used a system that included a backup engine to allow service to the primary engine without halting production in the factory.

Henry Ford used a stationary engine to power his automobile assembly lines.
Henry Ford used a stationary engine to power his automobile assembly lines.

While companies such as saw mills and grain mills used a stationary engine to power all of the various saws, planers, drills and augers, other well-known industry leaders used the stationary engine to power assembly lines. Henry Ford was one of the largest users of the system in his Detroit, Michigan, automobile assembly plants. Perhaps the best known user of the stationary engine in the United States was the San Francisco, California, cable car system, which used a single power plant to operate the entire city's fleet of cable cars.

A stationary engine may be used to power an auger, a type of helical drill bit.
A stationary engine may be used to power an auger, a type of helical drill bit.

Farms all around the world use stationary power to operate irrigation pumps. The power plants drive huge pumps that spray the crops with the precious water they need to produce large yields. Typically diesel-engine powered, these pumps can run for long periods totally unattended with little worry. Large fuel tanks on the well site feed the engines while automatic timers tell the engines when to start up and turn off.

Cable car lines are a common sight in San Francisco, including outside The Fairmont Hotel in the Nob Hill district.
Cable car lines are a common sight in San Francisco, including outside The Fairmont Hotel in the Nob Hill district.

Electrical power is often generated with the help of a stationary engine. Many companies utilize this power generation system in the case of power outages. Hospitals and other emergency related operations typically use several back-up power providers. This ensures that the lifesaving capabilities are never disrupted. Oil wells and pipelines also use the stationary power plants to operate the large pumps which keep the oil flowing throughout the system, ensuring the oil flow is uninterrupted.

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    • Henry Ford used a stationary engine to power his automobile assembly lines.
      By: Kyle Harris
      Henry Ford used a stationary engine to power his automobile assembly lines.
    • A stationary engine may be used to power an auger, a type of helical drill bit.
      By: Doin Oakenhelm
      A stationary engine may be used to power an auger, a type of helical drill bit.
    • Cable car lines are a common sight in San Francisco, including outside The Fairmont Hotel in the Nob Hill district.
      Cable car lines are a common sight in San Francisco, including outside The Fairmont Hotel in the Nob Hill district.
    • Stationary engines were key in helping products move from one workstation to the next along an assembly line.
      By: Photographee.eu
      Stationary engines were key in helping products move from one workstation to the next along an assembly line.