Drawn Together – Modern Machine Shop and Powerhouse Factories

To celebrate Modern Machine Shop’s 90th anniversary, we commissioned this commemorative poster by Powerhouse Factories, a creative agency best known for its original screen prints for musical artists. Learn more about the agency’s “shop” culture, and share your story for an opportunity to win one of the posters.

What does an expanse of time look like? That was the artistic challenge for both Modern Machine Shop and Powerhouse Factories, the creative agency that MMS tasked with designing and screen-printing limited-edition posters to commemorate its 90th anniversary. It is not an easy task to visually represent in one design the machining and manufacturing technologies and processes that MMS editors have written about for nine decades.

Of course, for Powerhouse Factories’ owners Ben Nunery and Pat Jones, this depth of source material presented a rare opportunity. Mr. Nunery and Mr. Jones were able to comb through more than 1,000 issues of MMS spanning 90 years to inspire their design decisions. The MMS omnibus—both its articles and ads—reflect technologies that range from leather-belt-driven machine driveshafts of the 1920s and ‘30s to the collaborative robots and additive manufacturing technologies of today. 

“Flipping through those pages, there is just so much interesting texture and typography,” Mr. Nunery says. “We ended up using several issues that spanned decades, which actually served as a case study in the evolution of a brand. Just the way you can see how the Modern Machine Shop logo itself changes over time. When you're design and typography geeks like us, that's extremely fun.”

The partnership between MMS and Powerhouse Factories for the 90th anniversary poster project was not an obvious one. While Powerhouse Factories counts several top consumer brands among its clients (Proctor and Gamble, Red Bull and The Kroger Co. among them), one look at Powerhouse’s headquarters will reveal the company’s bread-and-butter clientele: rock bands. Since 2002, the company has created thousands of posters and original artwork—much of it plastered to the walls of the company’s studios—for bands and artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Guns N’ Roses, The Black Keys, as well as hundreds of lesser-known indie bands.

But there was another quality about Powerhouse that caught the attention of Modern Machine Shop’s staff for this project—a quality other than an appreciation for Powerhouse’s original artwork for artists and musicians. (Which is fantastic, as you can see here.) For 90 years, the writers and editors of MMS have visited machine shops around the world to bring its readers first-hand accounts of machining technologies and practices. This investment in time and travel—travel to the smallest family-owned shop to global operations and mass-production facilities—is part of what sets MMS apart from any other publication in this space. 

So when MMS staff members first visited Powerhouse and spoke with Mr. Nunery and Mr. Jones, their ingenuity and resourcefulness was very familiar to us. The equipment that they use for their daily work, from the screen-printing press to the exposure unit to some of the furniture itself, is equipment that they designed and built themselves. This bootstrapping work ethic and do-it-yourself esprit de corps is something that we think MMS readers can appreciate, whether it relates to a mom-and-pop job shop or screen-printing artists. 

“At the end of the day, it’s about people who are creating something from nothing, who are taking raw materials and turning them into something different. Something usable that helps people, or a tool for someone else to engage with,” Mr. Nunery says. “And that's how we think about our work. We built this press, and we built our light table with old industrial parts 14 years ago. It has limitations, but it gets the job done and it has a history to it. And that’s why this project was so fun for us. It was about creating something for people like us who make things. We wanted to find imagery and make a design that reflects what Modern Machine Shop is all about.”