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          A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Assembly line










On the page development of the automobile you'll find for the year 1913, the entry: 'production-line assembly of the Ford (Model-T)'. At this point some background knowledge should be provided in addition, the immense changes, especially also for the workers are made clear. Similar to the beams in the above figure they apparently become more free through better wages, however, at the same time become more bound to the slavery of tight time-targeting, monotony and lack of communication which is symbolised in the figure by the ropes.

The necessity was caused by the success of the Model-T, at the time the only production-line car. Henry Ford and his employees were always looking for new possibilities to make the car even more reasonable and to produce in larger numbers. For a long time they had been interested in suitable machinery. In figure 2 a milling machine from 1912 can to be seen which machined 15 cylinder blocks of the Model-T from below, simultaneously.

The method of studying the elapsed time and motion sequences to rationalise the production is named after Frederic Taylor. The parts to be mounted come to the worker. He should use his energy for the actual work. Former complete assemblies were split up into the smallest possible activity-units from up to less than 10 seconds. According to Henry Ford this sounds all very simple and quite drastic. One worker should position the component, the second should attach the screw, the third should turn the nut on and the fourth should tighten it.

The application is not operated quite that drastically, above all, because everything must be done to achieve time-saving which is minutely determined in preliminary tests checked with a stopwatch. Indeed, the effects of the new system are enormous. Because one cannot change over only partly to assembly-line production, the entire factory is turned upside-down in a relatively short time, which, already in 1914 resulted in double the production using fewer workers.

But also the consequences for the individual worker were very grave. Not only did it mean that the position could be re-occupied in the shortest possible training time. What is the result if one repeats the same task every 10 seconds? In addition there is heat, stench and other negative factors. Adding to the aforementioned, repeatedly someone is turning up who wants to save even more time. Violent arguments are not unusual if somebody undercuts allocated times. And what does one tell people outside of the factory if one is asked what one does for a living?

For Henry Ford this was only the beginning. He could gain even more buyers for his product by lowering the purchase price and paying his workers double the daily wage of just 4 dollars. In addition, he reduced the shifts from 10 to 8 hours. This was very effective advertising for him. However, his ulterior motive was, to again raise the daily production incredibly by running three shifts per day. Today's car factories use the night shift rather for repair and maintenance work.

However, it didn't stop there. Over and above that, instead of 4 Dollars, Ford promised his workers 5 Dollars, this spread through the newspapers like wild-fire, leading to an almost nation-wide run on the additional jobs. However, this daily rate was received only by those who were accordingly qualified. Because most of the workers could speak only poor English and could in fact, hardly read at all, after a physically and psychologically strenuous shift, they still had to go to school. Later Ford even turned a ship into his own school.

Even at home the Ford workers could be monitored. There was a social service which was not afraid to visit the workers and their families and to write reports about what they discovered in the worker's homes and during questioning. In Jeffrey Eugenides novel 'Middlesex' he describes not only how a worker was trained in just seventeen minutes and then, after being checked by stopwatch, was allowed to assemble. The story tells of 'acid fog', metal clouds of dust, and of 'gigantic spindles with steam powered fists'. It was in this atmosphere that the engine was connected to the gearbox in 25 seconds (!)

However, going back to the two men from the sociological department at Ford. They preached the 'path of righteousness' and 'moral conduct'. They examined drinking habits and even the contents of garbage cans were sifted through. They gave good advice on dental care and were a little too radical about the feelings of American superiority towards immigrants. The workers were urged to purchase housing and to make investments, they were also warned against keeping bad company. Please take note, all this happened to an adult father of a family. It wasn't that easy, to get a daily wage of 5 Dollars.

Henry Fords son Edsel also had problems with his father's authority. Thus, apart from his activity as a Ford manager, he became involved, together with his wife, in the arts. Not only by buying of works of art, he was also instrumental in the development of an art collection and of an important museum in Detroit, America's 4th largest city. That was how, in 1932, through his friend, the museums manager, he met the Mexican Riviera. Riviera was a communist and was given the assignment to present his view of the industrialisation on the still naked walls in the art museum, paid for by the son of an industrialist.

Riviera chose as a basis for his work, the second and substantially larger Ford factory. He was fascinated by the energy emanating from here. However, he integrated into his work, not only the production line, but began his story with the mining of coal and iron-ore and also showed the blast furnaces in the factory. Automobiles, so to speak, are developed from the Earth. Astonishingly, neither father Ford nor his son were considered by Riviera to be arch capitalists, they were seen rather, as patrons of the forces of a country.

Unfortunately, the relationship of the Ford company to the workers did not remain without conflict. With the exhaustive number of trade unions in America during the 1930's, industrial action led to violence resulting in deaths and injured people. Ford long remained the last automobile-bastion which refused the workers the right to strike and to negotiate with their employer, only to yield completely, shortly before the Second World War.

Reporting about production-line assembly only became worthwhile much later, after the reconstruction in the 1970's. In Europe the distribution of labour within a group comes into fashion, combined with very long cycle times from up to 30 minutes. This model probably comes from Japan where discussion groups still take place after working hours. The workers can also decide for themselves about the further transporting of the respective vehicle on silent electric trolleys.

Now what about today? Nowadays, unfortunately, the worker has to compete with robots which have a very limited horizon, and moreover, with substantially cheaper workers abroad. One advantage of robot-construction is that nobody has to go into the spray-painting rooms any more, one disadvantage is that the work is again split up into the smallest possible units and the efficiency is precisely determinable by a computer. Because also in this case, Japanese principles are applied, the quality has been equalled or even surpassed.

The production lines, even though they are modern inclined elevators, do not run faster, but once again the workers are burdened with a very one-sided task, which is, above all exclusively physical, even if the cycle times today planned in minutes and not in seconds, as it was with Henry Ford. The average working life is considerably longer than just less than one hundred years ago and lighter jobs for older employees in a modern factory are scarce. 07/08






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Translator: Don Leslie - Email: lesdon@t-online.de

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