An assembly line is a manufacturing tool that was first widely used by Henry Ford to manufacture his automobiles. It involves a sequence of workers and machines in a factory that progressively assembles a series of identical items. The principle behind the assembly line is that each worker completes a single, specific task, which they repeat over and over again. The product moves on to the next worker who completes their individual task, and so on until the entire product has been made. Through the use of an assembly line, goods can be produced efficiently, quickly, and cheaply.
History of the Assembly Line
In 1913, Ford implemented the first moving assembly line for his Model T automobile. This line involved a mechanical process that added individual parts to an object as it came by on a conveyor belt. The Model T was passed through a conveyor system and workers attached separate parts to it, until the entire automobile was assembled. With this method, Ford was able to create the car faster and therefore boost the number of cars produced each day. The design of the automobile also become more consistent as each car was created exactly alike.
Many manufacturers soon adopted the successful assembly line as a means of production. Not only does an assembly line translate to faster creation and faster repairs, it also enables companies to sell their products at a cheaper cost—which in turn benefits consumers. In the case of the Model T, the average time to create the automobile went from 12 hours to 90 minutes, and the average citizen could now afford to own a car, which changed the lives of American consumers as cars became a part of everyday life. In fact, the Model T is credited with “putting the world on wheels.”
Ford’s assembly line brought prosperity and mobility on a brand new scale. By incorporating manufacturing efficiencies and being able to set products at prices that thousands could afford, the moving assembly line created the modern mass production process and influenced the “machine age.” To this day, the assembly line is an essential factor in mass production—and commerce—around the world.
The assembly line is also an important component to “push type” manufacturing, which is the opposite of a pull system. “Push type” means that production is not based on actual demand, as the assembly line simply mass produces as many products as it can—its goods are “Made to Stock”. Pull, on the other hand, is based on demand and follows just-in-time (JIT) manufacturing—its goods are “Made to Order”. The pull system can be thought of as an elevator, which is in use only when someone needs it, while the push system can be thought of as an escalator that is continually operating even if no one is on it. Currently, many supply chain management systems combine push type and pull type manufacturing, and it all started with Henry Ford’s implementation of the assembly line.