The Assembly Line
The assembly line was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. An assembly line is a method of manufacturing where the parts of a finished product are put together in a specific order. It is made up of a series of stations where a new part is added to the basic product at each station. At the end of the assembly line, the product is completely whole. Any manufacturing operation which did not begin to use an assembly line after the early 1900's eventually failed. It was extremely important to produce the automobile.
Before the Industrial Revolution in the late 1800's, workers in a manufacturing plant divided up the parts of a product. Each worker made a certain part all day. Then all the parts were put together to form the finished product.
After the start of the Industrial Revolution, in the second half of the 19th century, machines took over the work done by small craft businesses. The idea of interchangeable parts played a big role in manufacturing. Any part of a product can be used in that same spot in another product.
Eli Whitney came up with that idea. This was first noticeable in the gun manufacturing business. Instead of making an individual gun, one at a time, machine tools could make many identical parts. Along the assembly line each worker added a part until the gun was completed. Corresponding parts could be interchanged in another gun of the same type. In 1798, Eli Whitney manufactured 10,000 muskets for the United States army using the assembly line plan.
The assembly line was created and patented in 1901 by Ransom Olds, founder of the Oldsmobile car. Using interchangeable parts and the assembly line, he could make cars more cheaply and quickly. His ideas served as the model for Henry Ford's automobile manufacturing plant which he first used in 1913 in his automobile factory in Michigan. He was looking for ways to speed up the production of his automobiles.
Henry Ford improved upon the idea of an assembly line by using a conveyor system. At first, the car body, or chassis, was towed by rope from one station to the next with each worker adding a different piece to the car as it came to him. To speed up production, Henry Ford used a conveyor belt to move the chassis along to each worker. The worker did the same job all day, putting the same part on each automobile chassis. Henry Ford was called the father of mass production because he could produce a Model T Ford in 90 minutes and up to two million a year. It took 84 steps to produce a Model T Ford, also called a 'Tin Lizzie.'
During World War II, the assembly line was necessary to produce B-17 and B-24 bombers. By the end of the war, using the assembly line method, a B-17 bomber could be made every 63 minutes. General Motors was given the task of creating chassis for combat tanks. Bolts had to be used instead of weld for more strength, so they used human welders. The chassis could be picked up and turned in various directions so that the workers could reach different angles to complete the welding.
In the 1950's and 1960's, manufacturers began experimenting with robotic engineering, using robotic arms to do the work. They would work alongside humans and increase productivity and improve efficiency in manufacturing. Today, most assembly lines are automated. Computers control the various steps, and a human is needed at the end of the line to inspect the finished product.
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