The early 1900s served as a ground-breaking time in the world for manufacturing of the automobile. The concept of people assembling cars had to become more routine, more productive and ultimately more rapid to meet the needs of millions of common Americans looking to switch from a horse-drawn carriage to an actual motor vehicle.
The challenge during that day, was inventing a method to produce automobiles in mass quantities, but in a way that could be effective with the cost of resources and materials, and produce them in a way that the average man would be able to afford.
October 7, 1913, was an eventful day for Henry Ford as his team constructed a crude assembly line with a winch drawn rope to pull units along as 140 assembly members worked alongside a 150-foot assembly line decreasing the assembly process time from 12 hours to three.
From that moment, the method of large-scale production by use of the assembly line became significant in the automotive world, making a monumental impact on car manufacturing and American history as we know it.
For Kansas City Assembly Plant (KCAP), the impact of the assembly line runs deep. In 1906, the first Ford Sales office opened in downtown Kansas City. It wasn’t until 1950 that Ford purchased land in Claycomo, Mo. for the construction of a manufacturing plant.
In 1951, construction began on the Kansas City Assembly plant. Initially the plant was not producing cars, rather planes to assist with the war effort. It was 1953 that the facility was manufacturing B-47 Stratojet bomber wings for the Korean conflict.
The plant was later converted in 1957 to become an automotive manufacturing facility.
Past products produced at the Kansas City Assembly Plant include the Falcon and Comet, the Fairlane and Meteor, the Fairmont, the Tempo and Topaz, the Contour and Mystique, Lincoln Blackwood, Escape and the award-winning F-150 pickup which has kept its strong-hold at the plant since its inception in 1973.
Carmen Williams, a recently retired KCAP employee with 40 years of service, recalls his introductory time of when he first took a job as a painter at the plant. “The first car I ever painted was a 1973 Maverick,” he said.
With the advancements in the assembly line and the concept of lean manufacturing principles, Carmen says, “It’s been a real help and has come a long way. When I first hired in, there was no automation.”
Carmen has seen technology grow during the course of his career. “With technology becoming the wave of the future, this is the way it has to be.” He also expressed his pride in the F-150 product. “For 36 years running of being the best-selling truck on the road. It certainly says something about the quality, the product and the company. We’re definitely doing something right.”
Steve Lackey, a current KCAP employee who is a carpenter in Transit-Final, came to work at the plant in 1972. An 18-year-old, straight out of high school, Steve began working on Maverick and Comet. In 1983, he shifted to the truck line where he witnessed major improvements and advancements in how work was performed.
“At first, there wasn’t any automation or ergonomic concerns. And a lot of the jobs we did back then were very physically demanding jobs,” he said. “The progress I saw was a great benefit to the employee and the company,” he said. “That’s when I saw our trucks take off.”
The old equipment was geared to build approximately 18 trucks per hour. During the 1980s the body shop was cranking out approximately 30-35 units per hour. Steve expressed that although the equipment and processes were slower years ago, the F-150 pride remained strong even then.
“We always built good trucks,” he said. “It is because of all of the model changes and improvements that we’re the best-built truck in the country.”
In regard to the factory development and industrial advancements being an ever-evolving aspiration throughout the course of a century, Steve says, “People will always be looking for advancements in technology.”
KCAP currently occupies 1,269 acres with a facility size of 5,563,665 square feet, produces over 1,250 F-150 vehicles daily, and will soon be home of the Transit full size van in 2014.