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

Ford was famous for quoting, “you can have your Model T in any color you want, so long as it’s black.” In the beginning, any changes to a production line equated to increased costs. A Model T is a Model T, all the same guts, etc. This is true today – an Accord is an Accord, a 350i is a 350i and a Hummer is a Hummer. But there are differences, and the principal one is the paint job. In the early days, multiple paint options increased costs, and while Ford of course adapted over time, the idea wasn’t to vary too much from 2 or 3 standard colors.

Today car companies need to offer variety in order to compete for customer dollars. And they do this in an agile way with platform sharing. This manner of collaborative sharing allows a Chevy Tahoe and a Chevy Silverado to look alike, share many similar parts, but have enough differences so they can be marketed and sold as different cars. Taking this Chevy example further, GM uses the same platform for the previously mentioned Tahoe and Silverado along with the Avalanche, GMC Yukon and Sierra, Cadillac Escalade and the Hummer H2. Talk about extreme collaboration! But you know what, this essentially drives down the costs for you and I, so you should be screaming from the rooftops, “all hail platform sharing!” Without it we’d be stuck with some inflated car prices that none of us would want to shell out.

Robots Making Inroads

Lastly, robots are making inroads into the production line, performing more and more tasks that were typically handled by humans just five years ago. Repetitive movements are right up a robot’s alley, an easier and many times safer way to outsource simplistic work that again drives down costs. The downside to robots is they replace human jobs. We’ve written on this extensively, and while the effects are indeed painful for some, the car industry is steadfast in its message of lower costs for all being beneficial (over the ling run), and that can only be achieved with automization.

Robots are so prevalent today that manufacturing plants physically look very different to say a typical plant only 25 years ago. The image of a dirty, oily, smelly plant has been replaced with open architecture, lots of light, impeccable working conditions and a cohesion between human and machine that is truly impressive. The car industry in general is cleaning its act up, recycling more, adopting sustainability objectives and aligning them around shared goals of decreasing our dependence on fossil fuels among others. A job in an auto plant today is much more technical than it was for our grandfather, and if you’re into tinkering, it’s still a wonderful career to pursue.

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