DEARBORN - Leading up to the initial use of Ford’s moving assembly line, which took place on Oct. 7, 1913, teams of engineers first tried to perfect the art of timing to guarantee a consistent flow of parts and sub-assemblies to the main assembly line.
This fine tuning took place throughout the spring and summer of 1913, and focused on two important factors:
Quality – A high speed assembly line will not work if the parts are not consistently of high quality.
Logistics – Mass production requires large quantities of raw materials or parts that are coming into the system and large quantities of completed vehicles that needed to be shipped out or stored.
Managing all of this coming and going effectively was a challenge the Ford team worked hard to master. First, the various assembly and sub-assembly tasks were simplified and broken down into specific steps. Since the surge in production tapped out the supply of skilled workers, this simplification of each task offered opportunity to un-skilled workers.
“The whole exercise of the moving assembly line was based on time,” said Bob Kreipke, Ford corporate historian. “Time is money and for it all to work Ford had to have standardized parts, a stable workforce and a new thought process regarding technology.”
Kreipke said moving assembly lines had been used to produce other products, but most thought vehicles were far too complex to come together in this fashion. According to Kreipke, Henry Ford knew if his team could make it work, the moving assembly line would be the most cost-effective business model for the automobile industry. He knew it was the only way to generate the capacity needed to meet demand while also bringing the price of the car down enough to continue growing that demand.
Once the assembly lines were up and running, Henry Ford constantly pushed for more innovation and improvement within the company’s assembly facilities. That strong mindset is just as prevalent within the company’s manufacturing facilities today.
Follow this weekly assembly-line series to learn more about how the assembly line evolved over time and how the improvements impacted the lives of employees.