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Assembly line

An assembly line is a manufacturing process in which interchangeable parts are added to a product in a sequential manner to create an end product.

The assembly line was first introduced by Eli Whitney to create muskets for the U.S. Government. Henry Ford later introduced the moving assembly line at the Highland Park Ford Plant to cut manufacturing costs and deliver a cheaper product.

History of the Assembly Line

Until the 1800s, a single craftsman or team of craftsmen would create each part of a product individually, and assemble them together into a single item, making changes in the parts so that they would fit together - the so-called English System of manufacture.

Eli Whitney developed the American System of manufacturing in 1799, using the ideas of division of labour and of engineering tolerance, to create assemblies from parts in a repeatable manner.

This linear assembly process, or assembly line, allowed relatively unskilled laborers to add simple parts to a product. As all the parts were already made (through simple tasks on other assembly lines), they just had to be assembled.

While originally not of the quality found in hand-made units, designs using an assembly line process required much less training of the assemblers, and therefore could be created for a lower cost.

Originally, all the parts would move on a belt or chains, and the workers would stand in a line to assemble the products. Hence, the name "assembly line." Modern assembly lines often have much more complicated interdependencies.

In early industrial times, the assembly line ran smoothly, but as competition increased, the workers had to work faster and longer hours, therefore increasing the rate at which workplace injuries occurred.

Many workers were unhappy with the assembly line, because most never had the satisfaction of seeing the finished product (in sociological terms, they felt alienated from the product of their work), and they were also frustrated with the unsafe, exhausting working conditions. Because workers had to stand in the same place for hours and repeat the same motion hundreds of times per day, they often suffered from what are now called repetitive stress injuries.

History of the Moving Assembly Line

Ford assembly line, 1913
Ford assembly line, 1913

Henry Ford installed the World's first moving assembly line on December 1, 1913, as one of several innovations intended to cut costs and permitting mass production. The idea was an adaptation of the system used in the meat processing factories of Chicago, and the conveyor belts used in grain mills. By bringing the parts to the workers considerable time was saved. Ford's production methods were based on two main ideas, which were the aseembly line and the uniformity of a product.

Pre-Industrial Revolution

Although Whitney was first to use the assembly line in the industrial age, the idea of interchangeable parts and the assembly line was not new, though it was little used.

The idea was first developed in Venice several hundred years earlier, where ships were produced using pre-manufactured parts, assembly lines, and mass production; the Venice Arsenal apparently produced nearly one ship every day, in what was effectively the world's first factory.

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