Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Birth of Mass Production

Mass production is a way of manufacturing for the masses, a process which ultimately takes the power of choice in terms of product design and quality out of the consumer’s hands and into the manufacturer’s. This producer-consumer relationship has changed greatly since the introduction of mass production methods. Previous to this time, producers made things to order, rather than producing things to be sold at a later date. Shops were not filled with goods, but rather craftsman waiting to receive orders. In the modern era of mass production, there are no orders in advance, the worry of selling the goods only presents itself much later in the process.

Mass production is based on  the principles of specialization and division of labour as first described by Adam Smith in “The Wealth of Nations” in 1776 and it was first practiced in places like Eli Whitney’s gun factory in America in the 1790s. The division of labour is strategic as the highly skilled labour is used to design products and setup production systems, while highly unskilled labour is used to produce standardized components and assemble them with the help of specialized machinery.The early businesses which utilized mass production methods took workers directly from the agricultural labour force, and finding workers did not require much out-sourcing.

The parts used in mass production are often manufactured elsewhere and then put together on a moving production facility, commonly known as the assembly line. The resulting products were generally lacking in variety, mediocre in quality, but low in cost and price. The low-skilled, repetitive work done by factory employees was considered a variable cost, and as a result the workers would be hired and laid off based on the current needs of the company and demands of the market.

The production of the Model T automobile was a major event in the history of mass production. Harry Ford called it the “Universal Car”, and its popularity became so prominent that by the end of 1913, Ford was making half the cars produced in the United States.

Ford’s record of the event and strategy regarding mass production is as follows: 

[The company] initiated mass production in the factory. Mr. Ford reasoned that with each worker remaining in one assigned place, with one specific task to do, the automobile would take shape more quickly as it moved from section to section and countless man hours would be saved. To test the theory, a chassis was dragged by rope and windlass along the floor of the Highland Park, Michigan, plant in the summer of 1913. Modern mass production was born. Eventually, Model Ts were rolling off the assembly lines at the rate of one every 10 seconds of each working day

The assembly line established through the production of Ford’s Model T sparked an industrial revolution. Within the first 19 years after Model T was introduced, 15 million cars were produced and sold in the United States alone. 

"The evolution of mass production ." Ford UK . N.p., n.d. Web. 9 Dec. 2012.

Theodore Levitt presented an alternate theory regarding Ford’s success, which he expressed in Innovation in Marketing: 

[Henry Ford’s real genius] was marketing. We think he was able to cut his selling price and therefore sell millions of $500 cars because his invention of the assembly line had reduced the costs. Actually he invented the assembly line because he had concluded that at $500 he could sell millions of cars. Mass production was the result, not the cause of his low prices. 

"Idea: Mass production." The Economist . (accessed December 4, 2012).

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