In this document I will be delving into the history of manufacturing and will be focusing in on Henry Ford, where I will be looking at his impact on the industry. Henry Ford was born in 1863, on a farm in Michigan. His Father William ford was interestingly enough born in County Cork. Even at a young age Ford showed a flair for engineering, as he would often repair the watches of his friends and neighbours. His passion for manufacturing and assembly came to light when he left the farm to work as an apprentice machinist. This change in profession led him down a path that allowed him to explore machines such as steam engines and Otto engines.
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At the age of 29, Ford completed his first motor car, which was powered by a two-cylinder four horsepower motor. This was to be the first of many, as he got involved with multiple automobile companies, before he eventually founded the ‘Ford Motor Company’ in 1903. During this time, his company was producing only a few cars every day, where small groups of men would assemble components made to order by other companies. Although Ford was breaking ground with these projects, he soon came to realize that his dream was to produce an automobile that was reasonably priced, reliable, and efficient. This introduced the model T in 1908.
The model T revolutionized transportation and indeed the manufacturing industry itself. The car was very easy to operate, convenient and cheap to repair. It achieved everything Henry Ford wanted it to achieve and the only problem he seemed to have had was that he couldn’t make enough of them fast enough to meet the demand. To solve this problem, he created a specific system that could produce the best turnaround of product. The system was a combination of precision manufacturing, standardized/interchangeable parts, division of labour and assembly line. Although nowadays, assembly lines might be considered inflexible and that demand must be stable for their use, Ford understood how best to utilise them –  “Ford used multiple assembly lines flexibly in contrast to the modern understanding of how they should function. The implications are that Ford better understood their system than have later users or theorists. Ford ran not just one assembly line to produce up to the required maximum capacity, or at some theoretical maximum 'efficiency', the company used as many as six with lower capacities in combinations suitable for achieving its maximum output, and fewer as required to meet demand when it varied” (Wilson 2014).
His inspiration to include an assembly line came while visiting a slaughterhouse, where he saw the disassembly of animal carcasses and how convenient it was for workers. The introduction of the assembly line meant that cars were making their way to stationary workers that were adding specific components before it would move off again. The delivery of parts by conveyor belt to the workers was carefully timed to keep the assembly line moving smoothly and efficiently. It must be noted that most of his workers were very much uneducated, Ford considered this and tried to simplify the assembly line to ensure errors were kept at a minimum.  “The assembly line gave Ford a mechanism for ensuring a very high level of control over the work that his employees performed – a mechanism that was designed considering the nature of the labour force. Ford employed people who were unskilled and poorly educated, few were high school graduates; and, in many cases the company had to teach immigrants English and other basics. The people were the weakest link in producing the quantities needed to the desired quality at the times required” (Wilson 1995). The introduction of the moving assembly line significantly reduced manufacture time per vehicle, thus lowering costs. Through marketing and newspaper advertisement his company took over the united states. By 1918, half of all cars America were Model Ts. Ford's production of Model Ts made his company the largest automobile manufacturer in the world. He expanded workshops all over the globe to increase production –  “By the outbreak of the first world war the distribution of Ford cars had spread throughout the globe. The first assembly plant outside north America, established at Manchester in 1911 had flourished under the direction of that talented Englishman, Percival L.D. Perry” (Nevins and Hill 2008).
The 2nd industrial revolution saw the expansion of electricity, petroleum and steel. Henry Ford is heavily linked to the 2nd industrial revolution and is credited for inventing many manufacturing techniques, this however, is incorrect. It must be noted that Ford did not invent techniques such assembly lines and interchangeability of parts which was of course introduced by Eli Whitney. What we can credit however is Ford willingness to learn and ability to learn and adopt techniques to benefit his needs. His passion to build a great car did not get interrupted by greed or the need for profit,  “The massive profits that began to accrue were consistently ploughed backed. At the time, as in hindsight, it seemed that the Ford Motor Company did not want to make money as much as it wanted to build cars. With unquestioned financial stability and without any set notions about how automobiles should be made, Henry Ford allowed an extensive amount of experimentation to be carried out in the factory and a surprising rate of scrapping processes and machine tools when they did not suit the immediate fancy of his production engineers (Hounshell 1984).
In conclusion, Ford added enormously to the manufacturing industry and only a few have ever come to close to impacting on the scale of which he did. In my opinion, the greatest thing about his manufacturing footprint, was his strive for simplification, in both production and product,  “It was up to me, the designer, to make the car so completely simple….The less complex the article, the easier it is to make, the cheaper it may be sold” (Esterhuizen 2018). This attitude was also highlighted in one of his famous quotes by saying to customers they could have any colour as long as it’s black. This perfectly summed up his desire for efficiency and a systematic approach. What makes his success more accomplishing is that we still come across cars everyday with his name on it.
- Wilson, J. M. (2014) Henry Ford vs. assembly line balancing. International Journal of Production Research. [Online] 52 (3), 757–765. [online].
- Wilson, J. M. (1995) Henry Ford′s just-in-time system. International Journal of Operations & Production Management. [Online] 15 (12), 59–75.
- Nevins, A. & Hill, F. E. (2008) Ford. ACLS Humanities E-Book XML edition. New York: Scribner.
- Hounshell, D. A. (1984) From the American system to mass production, 1800-1932: the development of manufacturing technology in the United States. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Esterhuizen, A. (2018) 10 remarkable lessons from Henry Ford about design & manufacturing strategy. Medium.com.
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