WAYNE – On Monday, in honor of the 100th anniversary of the moving assembly line, senior manufacturing leadership gathered at Michigan Assembly Plant to remind staff and media of the important role that bold innovation has played, and will continue to play, in the progression of Ford Motor Company.
“It’s incredible,” said John Fleming, executive vice president, Ford Global Manufacturing and Labor Affairs. “There are probably very few inventions that started 100 years ago that are still here and still very much a part of our industry today.”
To illustrate the importance of the moving assembly line, presenters outlined the history, current successes and the plans for the future of the innovation that changed society forever.
In the beginning
According to Bob Casey, former Curator for the Henry Ford, Henry Ford was first to apply moving assembly line methodology to the production of automobiles. This move reduced the time it took to build a Model T from about 12 hours to three and lowered the price of the vehicle enough to make it accessible to the masses.
Shortly after introducing the moving assembly line, Henry Ford took another bold step. In order to stabilize the workforce, which at times experienced a rate of turnover as high as 380 percent, Henry Ford more than doubled the daily wage from $2.34 to $5 and reduced the number of hours in the work day from nine to eight. The following day, more than ten thousand people lined up to apply for jobs.
During WWII, Ford applied the art of efficient manufacturing to building B-24 bombers, jeeps, amphibious vehicles and other military equipment. Casey said that while we can’t say Ford’s moving assembly line won the war, we can say it may not have been won without the aid of the masses of equipment it produced.
On the Line Today
During his presentation, Fleming discussed advancements in the line that have brought us to where we are today. He noted there have always been four key principles to continuing the success of the moving assembly line:
• Quality parts – Consistently improving parts quality reduces the need for line tie-ups involving parts replacement.
• Work flow and organization – Getting the cadence of assembly line operations just right.
• Division of labor – Organizing a large number of employees.
• Waste reduction – Consistently searching for ways to improve efficiency.
Automation has helped with nearly all of the elements listed above as Fleming described when he compared the assembly line today to those featured in archival photos. “What you do see (today) is many technological improvements. You see automation to take weight out, you see automation to improve quality and you see ergonomic improvements,” Fleming said.
Panel of Ford manufacturing leadership explain the past, present and future of the moving assembly line.
Expansion is another key theme of our assembly lines today. Fleming said Ford is either launching or in the process of launching 14 new factories globally and is on target to build six million vehicles this year and 8 million per year by the end of the decade.
“Over the next four to five years, we will launch 114 either new or modified vehicles in various countries around the world. And this is all the result of our one Ford plan,” said Fleming.
Eighty-five percent of these vehicles will be built off of nine platforms, something that might impress Henry Ford if he were with us today.
Plans for the Future
Continued innovation will drive the future of ford according to Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president Ford Research and Innovation.
Mascarenas listed several new technologies that could positively impact the future of the assembly line including computer simulated assembly processes which Ford has already begun to use, free form fabrication (F3T) and 3D printing which could someday be used to meet parts needs on demand.
“Henry Ford did not rest on his laurels,” said Mascarenas. “We will use Henry Ford’s spirit of innovation as a benchmark to ensure the future success of the company.”
The line kept moving during the presentation and provided the perfect backdrop to the topic being discussed. Following the presentation, several who work on the line shared their thoughts about this important day in history.
Joan Dubanik has worked at MAP for 19 years, from the Michigan Truck days to the switch to Wayne Assembly to today. “The moving assembly line has definitely benefited both Ford employees and customers,” said Dubanik. “It created more jobs and helped make cars less expensive. It’s still people who make it all work, though, and we’re always looking to improve what we do.”
Another seasoned veteran of the line, Spencer Gray, is a team leader with 25 years of experience with Ford. He’s seen a lot in his time, but one thing that has impressed him most has been the expansion in powertrain options. “One of the biggest changes I have seen since I’ve been at Ford is in the products we’re building,” said Gray. “We’re making hybrids and battery-electric vehicle at this plant no. It shows our flexibility.”
For more employee response to the 100th anniversary of the moving assembly line click here