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October 13, 2022

20 Amazing Vintage Photographs of Ford Assembly Lines From the 1910s and 1920s

In April 1913, led by production boss Charlie “Cast Iron” Sorensen, Ford began taking its first tentative steps toward a moving line that used conveyor belts to stream components past workers who performed one or two tasks each. This pioneering manufacturing process made automobiles affordable to just about anyone and became the template for the entire industry.

Prior to 1913, Ford and virtually every other automaker assembled whole cars at a station with a team of workers working together to complete a single example, usually from start to finish. Like other companies, Ford had made numerous refinements to the process, achieving impressive production totals at the Piquette Avenue plant where the Model T was born in October 1908.

When deciding to implement the assembly line, neither Sorensen nor Henry Ford nor anyone else involved had the benefit of time-motion studies. They simply reasoned that moving the component at a fixed rate past each station would reduce the number of workers required to build the cars, reduce the time required for assembly, increase volume, and allow the company to control the pace.

The guinea pig was the T’s magneto, a component that supplied ignition energy to the engine before generators became common. A complex and innovative component that was one of the early Model T’s technological advantages, Ford’s magneto was integrated with the engine’s flywheel and involved many pieces. Under the old system, each magneto was assembled by one worker. On average, that worker could assemble 35 of them in a nine-hour shift, or roughly one every 15 minutes.

After some tinkering with the line rate and other factors, Sorensen and his cohorts achieved results that were probably startling even to them. Starting with 29 workers performing 29 different tasks, the experiment reduced assembly time by about seven minutes per unit. And with more refinements, Sorensen was able to reduce the magneto-line workforce to 14 and cut assembly time to five minutes
Ford’s transition to moving assembly lines began in April 1913 with the integrated (and complex) flywheel/magneto. With each worker assigned to complete a few specific tasks rather than build the entire unit, Ford reduced magneto assembly time from about 15 minutes to 5, and the required workforce decreased from 29 to 14.

(via Car and Driver)


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