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Mass Production

Mass Production Today

Mass production has become far more sophisticated than at its inception. To increase productivity, managers have focused on planning and scheduling. Actual production has become a carefully managed flow of parts, materials, and employees. Sales and marketing have become part of production, enabling management to know how many copies of a product to make.

One of the most important innovations is "just in time" production. Invented in Japan, the process requires detailed, predictable transportation and manufacturing schedules. Materials required for production arrive just in time to be used, while products are manufactured just in time to be shipped to their destination. This process cuts down on costly storage in warehouses, and prevents obsolete products from building up.

The emergence of computers has played an important role in planning and keeping complicated schedules that may involve thousands of people and parts. Computers help figure out production flow as well, keeping track of how much time different tasks take on the factory floor, and how much space they require.

In some ways, mass production has become so sophisticated that it is no longer true mass production. Many products come with a variety of options, and the customer can choose whatever combination of options he or she desires. When buying a computer from some manufacturers, for example, a customer can specify the size and make of the hard drive, how much memory they want and other details. Many theorists see a time in the near future when clothes are customized too. People would have their measurements taken, and when they order clothes, the clothes would be cut to their precise size by lasers at the clothes factory. The product would be created by specialized labor with the aid of machines, each shirt or pair of pants would be made using the same process, but by virtually any definition, this no longer would be mass production.


Resources

Books

Hindle, Brooke, and Steven Lubar. Engines of Change. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Press, 1986.


Scott M. Lewis

KEY TERMS

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Assembly line

—A sequence of workers, machines and parts down which an incomplete product passes, each worker performing a procedure, until the product is assembled.

Interchangeability

—Parts that are so similar that they can be switched between different machines or products and the machines or products will still work.

Machine tool

—A machine used for cutting or shaping parts.

Uniformity system

—A method for building products out of interchangeable parts that arose in the United States during the early nineteenth century.

Additional topics

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