Today marks the 100th anniversary of the moving assembly line invented by Ford Motor Company under the leadership of Henry Ford. On this occasion, the company is expanding advanced manufacturing capabilities and introducing new technologies that could revolutionize mass production in a big way.
Ford is rapidly expanding its advanced manufacturing capabilities and boosting global production to meet surging consumer demand. By 2017, Ford will increase its global flexible manufacturing to produce on average four different models at each plant around the world to allow for greater adaptability based on varying customer demand. Ford also projects 90 percent of its plants around the world will be running on a three-shift or crew model by 2017, which will help increase production time more than 30 percent.
“One hundred years ago, my great-grandfather had a vision to build safe and efficient transportation for everyone,” said Ford Executive Chairman Bill Ford. “I am proud he was able to bring the freedom of mobility to millions by making cars affordable to families and that his vision of serving people still drives everything we do today.”
Also in 2017, virtually all Ford vehicles will be built off nine core platforms, boosting manufacturing efficiency, while giving customers the features, fuel efficiency and technology they want anywhere in the world. Today, Ford builds vehicles on 15 platforms and has the freshest lineup in the industry.
“Henry Ford’s core principles of quality parts, workflow, division of labor and efficiency still resonate today,” said John Fleming, Ford executive vice president of global manufacturing. “Building on that tradition, we’re accelerating our efforts to standardize production, make factories more flexible and introduce advanced technologies to efficiently build the best vehicles possible at the best value for our customers no matter where they live.”
Ford’s recent expansions in global manufacturing and production have helped to retain 130,000 hourly and salaried jobs around the world.
They also put the company on pace to produce 6 million vehicles in 2013 – approximately 16 vehicles every 60 seconds around the world. By 2015, Ford will have opened the facilities below:
- 2011: Ford Sollers Elabuga Assembly Plant – Russia
- 2012: Ford Sollers Naberezhnye Chelny Assembly Plant – Russia
- 2012: Chongqing #2 Assembly Plant – China
- 2012: Craiova Engine Plant – Romania
- 2012: Ford Thailand Motors – Thailand
- 2013: Chongqing Engine Plant – China
- 2013: Nanchang Assembly – China
- 2014: Camaçari Engine Plant – Brazil
- 2014: Chongqing #3 Assembly Plant – China
- 2014: Chongqing Transmission – China
- 2014: Sanand Assembly Plant – India
- 2014: Sanand Engine Plant – India
- 2015: Hangzhou Assembly – China
- 2015: Ford Sollers Elabuga Engine Plant – Russia
One hundred years ago today, Henry Ford and his team at Highland Park assembly plant launched the world’s greatest contribution to manufacturing – the first moving assembly line. It simplified assembly of the Ford Model T’s 3,000 parts by breaking it into 84 distinct steps performed by groups of workers as a rope pulled the vehicle chassis down the line.
The new process revolutionized production and dropped the assembly time for a single vehicle from 12 hours to about 90 minutes.
By reducing the money, time and manpower needed to build cars as he refined the assembly line over the years, Ford was able to drop the price of the Model T from $850 to less than $300. For the first time in history, quality vehicles were affordable to the masses. Eventually, Ford built a Model T every 24 seconds and sold more than 15 million worldwide by 1927, accounting for half of all automobiles then sold.
“Ford’s new approach spread rapidly, not only to other automakers but also to manufacturers of phonographs, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and other consumer goods,” said Bob Casey, former curator of transportation at The Henry Ford, and author of The Model T: A Centennial History. “The assembly line became the characteristic American mode of production.”
In 1914, Ford instituted the “$5 workday,” a significant wage at the time, to enable his employees to buy the vehicles they built. The move created loyalty among Ford workers and is credited with giving rise to a new middle class of consumers unencumbered by geography, free to travel the open roads, to live where they please and chase the American dream.
Ford fans today are honoring Henry Ford and his ingenious moving assembly line. National Geographic will mark the occasion with an in-depth new documentary as part of its “Ultimate Factories” program airing Friday, Oct. 18. Information about the documentary and local air times can be found here.
For additional information, graphics, images and video on Ford’s moving assembly line, please visit media.ford.com.
New technologies shape the future
Ford already is realizing the benefits of advanced manufacturing technologies that will shape the future. For example, Ford engineers are developing a highly flexible, first-of-its-kind, patented technology to rapidly form sheet-metal parts for low-volume production use. The technology, known as Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology, or F3T, will lower costs and speed delivery times for prototype stamping molds – within three business days versus two to six months for prototypes made using conventional methods.
Additionally, Ford is expanding its capabilities in 3D printing, which creates production-representative 3D parts layer by layer for testable prototypes. With 3D printing, Ford can create multiple versions of one part at a time and deliver prototype parts to engineers for testing in days rather than months.
Ford also is investing in robotic innovations to improve vehicle quality and production efficiencies. For example, the company’s new dirt detection system uses robotic vision to create a digital model of each vehicle in final assembly to analyze paint and surface imperfections in comparison with a perfect model. The result has been significantly improved surface quality on Ford vehicles and more time for operators on the assembly line to address complex issues. Robotics, in this case, allow Ford to work smarter in improving products for customers and allowing workers to focus on more critical thinking tasks.
Finally, through Ford’s “virtual factory,” the company can improve quality and cut costs in real-world manufacturing facilities by creating and analyzing computer simulations of the complete vehicle production process. This includes simulations of how assembly line workers have to reach and stretch when building a vehicle to ensure the work conditions meet Ford ergonomic standards. Since the implementation of this virtual process in 2001, the number of ergonomic issues during physical builds has been reduced by nearly 20 percent.
“Technologies such as 3D printing, robotics and virtual manufacturing may live in research but have real-world applications for tomorrow and beyond,” said Paul Mascarenas, chief technical officer and vice president, Ford Research and Innovation. “We use Henry Ford’s spirit of innovation as a benchmark for bringing new technologies into the manufacturing process.”