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Mass Production

The Assembly Line

Initially groups of workers at Ford moved down a line of parts and sub-assemblies, each worker carrying out a specific task. But some workers and groups were faster or slower than others, and they often got in each other's way. So Ford and his technicians decided to move the work instead of the workers. If engines in need of assembly were moved by a conveyor belt, the speed of work would become standardized to the speed the conveyor belt moved.

The concept of the assembly line came from many places, including slaughterhouses, where they operated in reverse. An animal carcass, hung on a hook, would slide down an overhead rail, while different workers removed various cuts of meat. No one had applied this idea to manufacturing, however.

After months of experimenting with various lengths and rates of speed for the assembly line, Ford switched its factory to assembly line production in 1913. The amount of time required to built a car plummeted to about a third of what it had been, and production skyrocketed, reaching 585,000 Model Ts in 1916. Because the assembly line was so demanding on workers, many left. To avoid constantly hiring and training new workers, Ford began paying them $5 a day—a good wage at the time.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Macrofauna to MathematicsMass Production - Predecessors To Mass Production, Mass Production Begins At Ford, The Assembly Line, The Spread And Limits Of Mass Production