Henry Ford revolutionized the automobile industry 100 years ago when he invented the “ Moving Assembly Line ”. Since then, the American automaker has never looked back. The company has established a legacy of innovation. Ford has since expanded its manufacturing activities across the globe and continues to lead by introducing groundbreaking technologies that continue revolutionizing the mass production of automobiles. The automaker aims to expand its global flexible manufacturing strategy by 2017 to meet increased demand. This strategy entails producing four or more different vehicle models at each factory all over the world. This will improve adaptability across different regions. Ford also hopes to establish a three-shift production model by this year in the majority of its plants.
This excellence is rooted in Henry Ford’s creative visionary spirit where around 100 years ago he launched the first ever-moving assembly line. The assembly line simplified assembly of the Ford Model T to just 84 steps as the chassis was pulled down the line by a rope. As a result, assembly time for the vehicle’s 3,000 parts reduced from 12 hours to just around 90 minutes. Over the years, Ford went ahead to refine the assembly line to further reduce the labor, time and money needed to manufacture cars. This allowed the automaker to reduce prices of the Model T to $300 from $850. This enabled the masses to afford quality vehicles.
Moving Assembly Line – How it all began
It is often said that Ford associated himself from experts from differ fields such as canning, steel making, and brewing. Each expert would contribute an idea on how to achieve mass production in auto manufacturing. In addition, his visionary leadership qualities helped create an environment where experts collaborated to develop new ideas and contribute innovations that eventually led to the invention of the assembly line. The actual line was launched in 1913, October 7 at the company’s Highland Park Assembly factory. The first assembly line was actually a crude system set in an open space.
The assembly line stretched 150 feet long and had a rope and a winch. The winch dragged the chassis across the floor as 140 assemblers stationed along the line installed parts on the chassis. As a result, assembly time dropped from over 12 hours under the old stationary system to less than three hours which was later refined to 90 minutes as the concept was upgraded. Later in 1914, an endless chain replaced the rope. In essence, the assembly line brought work close to the workers and smoothened differences as faster employees slowed down while slower employees were forced to work harder to keep up with the pace. The impact was that from producing only 82,388 units of Model T and Touring cars, the automaker produced 585,388 units of Model T in 1916.
Greatest contribution to manufacturing
The invention was not only popular in the automobile industry but also to other manufacturing sectors such as vacuum cleaners, phonographs, refrigerators as well as other consumer goods. The line was built on principles of quality parts, efficiency, workflow and division of labor. The company has built its reputation on these principles. To further this tradition, the company is currently accelerating efforts to standardize its production process to ensure its factories are flexible and accommodating to new technologies that help the company to improve its efficiency while still offering value for customers all over the world. In commemorating the 100 years, Ford Executive Chairman, Bill Ford saluted his great-grandfather, Henry Ford for bringing “freedom of mobility” to the masses by production of affordable cars, a vision that the company continues today.
The assembly line was not devoid of challenges though. To ensure optimal production for the assembly line, the company needed a stable workforce, which was difficult at the time as the sector experienced up to 378% turnover rate. To avoid this, Henry Ford made a decision that shocked the industry; he raised the base wage for plant workers to $5 for an 8-hour day from $2.34 for a 9-hour day. Like moving assembly line, this development also transformed the society and it is credited for building the middle class. It also influenced the “Great Migration” of workers to the industrial mid-west