What’s behind the production line (Part I of II)

We have all heard how much Henry Ford revolutionized the auto-manufacturing sector. And it is true, the guy flipped the switch with a lean production line and auto sales exploded. For those of us who don’t work on a production line however, the notion might seem rather simple. Everyone is assigned a station, with specific roles, doing said role repetitively thus playing a small part in the bigger objective of manufacturing an automobile.

Production or assembly lines like the one we just described can be seen in movies such as “Modern Times” with Charlie Chaplain or iconic scenes from T.V. shows like “I Love Lucy.” Cars became much more accessible because production lines drove costs down (via increased supply), and this in turn also employed hundreds of thousands of people. In fact, the American middle class grew rapidly thanks to the auto industry, where in some cases entire towns or neighborhoods were employed at the plant.

Original Model T factory

Part of the process of building cars better and smarter was learning the valuable lesson that standardized parts were critical. A vehicle’s components could be made using machines and molds, and the workers would then fabricate the finished product. Ford gets all the credit for inventing the assembly line, but old-school auto heads point to another guy – Mr. Ransom Eli Olds. Olds worked on steam-powered cars and had an assembly line in motion from 1901 to 1904. Yet, Ford’s line was different, providing tasks to specific workers built on repetition, but repetition previously unseen in the auto industry.

At the original Model T factory, a car could be assembled every 93 minutes. For the time this was efficiency on steroids. Nobody had seen such efficiency in play before and Ford was lauded as an American genius. Nowadays, life on the factory line isn’t all that different. One of the big changes however is parts are not fabricated on-site (in the same plant as the assembly line), but rather bought, stored on site and then inserted into the process. Transmissions, brake rotors, etc are sourced in bulk from providers and those parts are placed on the assembly line stations that coincide with that specific part.

Ford continues to surprise in Part II …

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