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The Ultimate Guide to Car Production Lines

The assembly line is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Often mentioned among the first disruptive practices, it shook the world so profoundly that manufacturers who failed to adapt to it closed their business.

The assembly line was more than just an invention that sped up manufacturing processes – it was an idea, a methodology, which strived to increase efficiency and output. Almost every industry quickly adopted and adapted it to better suit their needs and it continued to evolve and thrive up to this day.

Today, the most widely used term among manufacturers is lean manufacturing – an assembly line that runs optimally, without delays or issues, with minimum waste and maximum productivity. These properties are the goal of every business today, not only those related to manufacturing.

The first part of this guide follows the assembly line from its humble beginning and earliest prototypes, Henry Ford’s major breakthrough, to Toyota’s contribution to the assembly line and lean manufacturing. The guide then transitions to today’s modern lines, their organizational aspect, new technologies, integration of AI and machine learning, and other disruptive methods taking the world by storm. 

Today, we can see that every business has adopted organizational methods utilized by modern assembly lines.

They are applicable to almost every company in existence, and even to our personal day to day organization of tasks. 

For a company to truly succeed in today’s fast-paced world, it must run flawlessly – with minimum waste and maximum efficiency.

Here’s how the assembly lines made that possible.

History of Car Production Lines

When the term “car production” is mentioned in conversation, most people immediately think of Henry Ford and his revolutionary assembly lines, but the truth is much more complex. For starters, the assembly line was patented not by Ford, but another auto industry giant, one who is credited with creating the modern auto industry as we know it yet isn’t a household name.

In this chapter, we will list how the car production lines as we know it came to be and how the constant pursuit of efficiency and better quality products across industries led to them. This chapter will deal with their history, and the importance of the division of labor, interchangeable parts and similar concepts from other industries all played a major role in their evolution.

Division of Labor

Efficient and cost-effective, car production lines also owe their existence to an ancient social concept: The division of labor. Throughout history, the concept of the division of labor has been studied, analyzed, and implemented across numerous industries, stretching back as far as the Sumerian empire circa 3000 B.C. In a division of labor model, each worker handles a single task, one that eventually becomes second nature. Individual parts are constructed in a uniform manner, promoting efficiency and reducing overall production costs.

Early proponents of the division of labor, however, also recognized its pitfalls, the most significant of which is reduced worker satisfaction over the long term and less opportunity for promotion. Nevertheless, dividing labor not necessarily by ability or skill, but with a focus on a single task per worker, found its way into every industry, from shipbuilding to general manufacturing and car production.

Theorists of Division of Labor

One of the earliest theorists to tackle the concept of division of labor was Plato, who postulated in his “Republic” that the “inequality of humanity…is embodied in the division of labor.” The Greek philosopher, like many of the theorists who would follow in his footsteps, touted the myriad benefits of the division of labor, at both the political and economic level.

For instance, 17th-century scientist and philosopher Sir William Petty observed how the division of labor led to improvements in the output of Dutch shipbuilding yards. With radical ideas that predated the Industrial Revolution by about 100 years, Petty is considered the first contemporary philosopher to propose that the division of labor has numerous societal benefits. In his book “Political Arithmetick,” Petty laid out his firsthand observations on the division of labor in the shipbuilding industry. According to Petty, the Dutch originally built their ships one at a time, which was regarded as a lengthy and painstaking process. Petty observed that, when labor was divided so that certain workers performed a particular task on every ship that was built, the process took less time.

A decade later, the economist Adam Smith expanded on Petty’s ideas, furthering the notion that the division of labor was tantamount to a nation’s economic dependence. His 1776 publication, “A Wealth of Nations,” is today considered one of the most influential books in the discipline of economics. Some of Smith’s ideas were considered radical and innovative at the time, including the notion that a man’s chosen line of work is both caused by the division of labor and contributes to it. He stressed the importance of pairing skills with equipment in order to increase productivity and economic prosperity.

Smith’s ideas were qualified and expanded more than a century later by French sociologist Émile Durkheim, who authored 1893’s “The Division of Labor in Society.”

Thanks to the contributions of early scholars such as Durkheim, Petty, and Smith, along with manufacturing pioneers in the shipbuilding industry, the division of labor began to make waves as the world’s most efficient production system.


Early Concepts in Other Industries

In the years leading up to the Industrial Revolution, society did indeed function much like the one proposed by Plato — whether shoemakers, builders or weavers, a single person created a single item, every step of the way. The source of “trades,” this method of production required considerable skill that could take years to build. Further, mastery of a particular craft could take a lifetime of training and practice. Today, craft production is a specialized industry with a cost that many manufacturers consider prohibitive.

The earliest evidence of production line use and the mass production of interchangeable components is seen in 12th century China. The nation’s many state-run monopolies ordered and executed the mass production of various metal components.

Europe embraced mass production as early as 1104, in the aqueous town of Venice, Italy. That year, construction began on what was to become the continent’s largest industrial complex: The Venetian Arsenal. A conglomerate of armories and shipyards, the Arsenal eventually encompassed 15 percent of Venice by area, a total of 110 acres, and employed more than 16,000 workers. Centuries before Henry Ford perfected the moving assembly line, the Venetian Arsenal suggested the possibility, but on canals rather than mechanical belts — parts were mass produced and fitted onto ships as they floated down a canal. At the peak of production, in the mid-1500s, an entire ship could be put together in a single day.


Industrial Revolution

According to many theorists, capitalism as we know it was born as a result of the Industrial Revolution. Defined as the period between 1760 and 1840, the Industrial Revolution saw “innovative” inventions and advancements in manufacturing spread like wildfire. Division of labor was a major component of the Industrial Revolution, helping fuel breakthroughs in production methods, including assembly line processes and materials handling, across the myriad industries that embraced modernization.

Most Important Production Line Concepts during the Industrial Revolution

As the flour industry was instrumental in keeping populations fed, it was at the forefront of mechanical and product innovation during the Industrial Revolution. Many experts believe that modern bulk material handling methods stem from Oliver Evans who automated a flour mill.

  • Oliver Evans and his automatic flour millFirst automated process of bulk materials.
    • In the 1700s, the milling of flour was a labor- and time-intensive process with many steps, including grinding and sifting.
    • Evans, while working in his family’s mill in Newport, Delaware, noted that the whole process, in addition to being lengthy, often resulted in a sub-par product.
    • After the mill’s 1785 opening, Evans searched for alternatives.
    • Unlike most manufacturers at the time, the innovative thinker saw the manufacturing process as a continuous whole.
    • He is considered one of the first to treat the production process as much more than just the sum of its isolated parts.
    • In his family mill, Evans employed an ancient Roman belt bucket system along with canvas conveyors to transport the flour and automate the process.
    • His methods were adopted by a number of breweries and mills, both in the Colonial U.S. and the United Kingdom.
  • The Portsmouth Block Mills, Hampshire, EnglandThe earliest industrial example of a continuous, linear assembly process.
    • Built from 1801 until 1803, the mill primarily manufactured parts for the Royal Navy.
    • A total of 22 distinct machine tool types were manufactured at Portsmouth, which remained open through the 1960s.
  • Bridgewater Foundry, England – Modern factories are still laid out in the same manner.
    • The Foundry specialized in the production of locomotives and machinery tools, and its building was arranged in a line, with separate sections for materials handling and production.
    • Workers used cranes to lift heavy materials and objects, and a railway connected directly to the factory provided ease of transport.
  • Leiston Works Factory – The very first flow assembly line.
    • Even before personal cars were an inkling of an idea, the transportation industry was a leader within the manufacturing industry.
    • The first flow assembly line was utilized at the Leiston Works Factory, which built portable steam engines beginning in the 1840s: In 1852, steam engine production began in “The Long Shop,” named for its shape.
    • Machine construction began on one end of the lengthy room, and parts were attached as it “progressed” through the room.
    • Some pieces were constructed on the factory’s balcony level and then lowered onto the engine.
    • By the time the steam engine had passed through the entire room, it was complete.

While the Industrial Revolution brought massive changes to the manufacturing industry and produced early versions of the assembly line, there was still more to come. Interchangeable (or pre-manufactured) parts would further change the production industry for the better.


Interchangeable Parts: A Huge Breakthrough

Few can deny the superior craftsmanship of a custom-made item, whether it’s a pair of leather boots or an eye-catching motor vehicle. Custom craftsmanship is a time-consuming process, however; one that can negatively impact a company’s efficiency and bottom line. By using interchangeable parts in the manufacture of a variety of goods, from guns to cars, mass production becomes a reality. Further, replacing or repairing an item is infinitely easier.

The Gribeauval system

While the use of interchangeable parts in manufacturing is common in the modern world, it was a veritable breakthrough that dates back to 18th century France. Weapons were the first mass-produced items built with interchangeable parts, beginning with cannons and shells.

French engineer and artillery officer Lieutenant General Jean-Baptiste Vaquette de Gribeauval is credited with promoting the widespread implementation of standardized weapons, called the Gribeauval system. The system changed the boring process of cannon production, utilizing a standardized drilling system that allowed for thinner walls and shorter overall length without sacrificing range and accuracy.

Implemented by royal order in 1765, Gribeauval’s namesake system was further expended by his countryman and patron Honoré Blanc. The firearms designer believed that the Gribeauval system could be utilized in musket manufacturing. Although Blanc’s idea fizzled in France at the time, mass-produced guns played an integral role in ensuring French victories in the Napoleonic Wars, fought from 1803 – 1815. Neither Gribeauval nor Blanc, who died in 1789 and 1801 respectively, lived to see their concept become a widespread reality in their home country.

Eli Whitney’s Standardized Weapons Manufacturing

Across the Atlantic, Blanc’s ideas attracted the attention of then-Ambassador to France, Thomas Jefferson. After several years of listening to Jefferson’s proposals regarding standardized weapons manufacturing, the newly implemented U.S. government approved a trial to test the idea. President George Washington himself awarded inventor Eli Whitney a grant to produce 12,000 pre-manufactured muskets.

Whitney, who rose to fame in 1794 as the inventor of the cotton gin, failed to meet the deadline set by Congress. They ordered Whitney to appear at an assembly, in which he successfully demonstrated how interchangeable parts could revolutionize the gun making industry. Prior to the widespread use of interchangeable parts, a broken firearm would have to be repaired by a gunsmith on a customized basis. Pre-manufactured parts streamlined the process of gun repair, changing the industry forever.


Ransom Eli Olds: The Father of the Assembly Line Concept

At the turn of the 20th century, personal vehicles were just beginning to take over the world, connecting it in a way never before possible. And breakthroughs in assembly line production methods were a major player in the game. Despite the common misconception that Henry Ford was the brains behind the assembly line, it was actually one of Ford’s rivals who invented and patented the “innovative” production method — Ransom Olds.

Olds Motor Vehicle Company is Where it All Started

A Detroit-based auto manufacturer, Olds founded the company that bears his name to this day — Oldsmobile — and is credited with kicking off Detroit’s reign as auto capital of the world. At the time of its establishment in 1901, Olds’ business was known as the Olds Motor Vehicle Company. From the outset, the Oldsmobile factory utilized an assembly line as the primary means of production.

The concept was an immediate success: In the factory’s first year of operation, 425 vehicles left the assembly line. The following year, 1902, saw an “output” of 2,500 Olds Motor Company vehicles.

Ransom took his “innovative” production vision a step further, implementing a mass-production model that changed the manufacturing landscape of both Detroit itself and the auto industry in general. Like early gun manufacturers, the first car makers initially built vehicles individually, without a standard template. Thus, every car was distinct. The French-made Benz Velo was the first car to be standardized, with 134 identical vehicles manufactured during the 1894 production year.

The 1901 Oldsmobile Curved Dash holds a place in history as the first mass-produced vehicle in the U.S. By 1904, about 5000 Curved Dash models had been sold.


Henry Ford Improved the Assembly Line

Despite the success enjoyed by Ransom Olds and his eponymous company, it is Henry Ford who stamped his name across history as the virtual father of the automotive industry. Ford’s moving assembly line revolutionized auto production and was a contributing factor towards improved working conditions in the 20th century.

Ford got the Idea from the Food Industry

The idea for a moving assembly line was spawned by a visit Ford made to Chicago’s Swift & Company slaughterhouse. This event is even documented by the Henry Ford Museum: while at the meat packing plant, Ford marveled at the company’s conveyor system that carried meat to workers. Subsequently, Ford designed and built a similar assembly line with moving platforms and driven conveyor belts at his Highland Park factory. At the Swift & Co meatpacking plant, Ford also saw the benefits of division of labor firsthand. Workers were assigned to specialized tasks that led to high workplace efficiency.

The Moving Assembly Line’s first Car: Ford Model T

Following his tour of the slaughterhouse, Ford assembled a team to develop a moving assembly line for the car manufacturing industry. The group of heavy-hitting experts, including toolmaker C. Harold Willis and factory superintendent Peter E. Martin, adapted the concept for the ninth incarnation of the Ford Model T. Following a lengthy period of trial and error, on October 1, 1908, the first Model T to be assembled in 93 minutes rolled off the assembly line in Detroit. Prior to the implementation of a moving conveyor belt, the average production time of the Ford Model T was about 12 hours.

A complete Model T was composed of more than 3000 parts, from tires to valves and gas tanks, all of which became uniform beginning in 1913. The fast and organized production process was broken down into 84 steps, with a single worker taking on the same task for every vehicle. Assembly line workers were specially trained to be virtual experts at that single, particular task, performed in 3-minute intervals.

By co-mingling interchangeable parts, a moving assembly line, and especially honed workers, the time it took to assemble a vehicle dropped significantly. Less manpower translated to a lower overall production cost, and the savings were passed down to Ford’s customers. With a price tag of under $300, considerably less than the previous year’s $850 (about $18,000 in today’s worth), the Ford Model T brought personal vehicles to the masses. It was the first time that the middle class at large could afford a quality personal vehicle.

The year after implementing the moving assembly line, Ford out-produced all other automakers by a significant margin. Just over 308,000 cars rolled out of Ford factories in 1914. And by 1927, more than 15 million Ford model T vehicles had been sold across the world.

Work Conditions Improved Thanks to Production Lines

A few unexpected, but welcome, side effects of the moving assembly line were safer factories, a shorter work week, and improved working conditions. Since workers had a uniform, static tasks, and an assigned post, instances of workers roaming around the job site were eliminated, lowering the rate of injury while keeping employees on task.

Higher Wages and Guaranteed Pay

Ford also brought a human, compassionate touch to the auto production industry. While the act may have been a gesture of good faith and generosity, it also helped improve employee morale and decrease turnover rates. Ford’s improvements in working conditions included the institution of a $5 workday, a “significant wage for that time,” with guaranteed pay. The pay increase came with other perks: Workers were no longer allowed to perform heavy lifting, bend over, or stop while on the job, and no special training was required. These new workplace standards meant that more people were able to work, as nearly anyone could perform the tasks. Immigrants were eligible for employment as well.

Because the production of goods was such a lengthy, specialized process, early manufacturers sought ways to save time and improve efficiency. Without the contributions of freethinkers such as Evans, Olds, and Ford, the car production industry would be a much different beast. Rather than sitting in the shadow of their predecessors, modern car production companies are looking to the future, constantly improving their methods and bringing a whole new dynamic to the landscape of car production lines.


The Organizational Aspect of Modern Assembly Lines

From the very beginning of the car manufacturing industry, moving assembly lines and their interchangeable parts played a crucial role. They were designed from their advent to make producing vehicles faster and more efficient than manual labor. Their very design remains a hallmark of a collaborative effort among numerous manufacturers rather than a single company. Scores of car making companies worked together to perfect the assembly line as we know it today.

Today’s assembly lines are a far cry from their earliest counterparts. The ones used in factories today feature streamlined technology and systematic methods that facilitate minimal waste. This enhances the value of vehicles without sacrificing customer satisfaction or productivity.

The credit to this efficiency of modern assembly lines can be given significantly to Japan and Toyota Industries, both of which were critical in designing this assembly line technology and improving production lines that are still in use today. The Toyota production system is viewed by many industry insiders as the precursor to what is now known as lean manufacturing. With that, both Toyota and the country of Japan are recognized as leaders in both automotive manufacturing and the production industry.


Overview of Lean Manufacturing and the Toyota Production System

The Toyota production system, known as TPS, is an integrated socio-technological system. The TPS management philosophy and practices help organize manufacturing, logistics, and interaction with customers and suppliers. TPS is a precursor to the more generic term of lean manufacturing. The main objectives are eliminating overburdening and inconsistency while minimizing waste.

TPS seeks to minimize or eliminate eight different varieties of waste. These include:

  • Overproduction, or large waste
  • Time on hand, or waiting
  • Transportation
  • Processing
  • Stock at hand
  • Movement
  • Manufacturing of defective products
  • Underutilized workers

By its very design, TPS is a framework for eliminating waste while conserving all its resources. It is a benchmark in the manufacturing industry that is now copied all over the world, primarily under the label of lean manufacturing.


How Sakichi Toyoda and Automated Looms Paved the Way for the TPS

CC Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

While credit for lean manufacturing can go directly to Japan and the TPS, credit for the TPS must be given to its inventor, Sakichi Toyoda. Born in 1867, Toyoda was the founder of Toyota Industries. Even after his death in 1930, Toyoda remains well-known as the king of inventors with a total of 85 patents to his names. The latter ones, however, were made with the help of his relatives including his own children.

Interestingly, he was most active in the field of looms and achieved a major breakthrough in 1896 when he designed a loom that automatically stopped working in case of a broken thread. At this time, a broken thread presented a major quality problem to the process of weaving. Workers had to continuously monitor looms for broken threads. If a single broken thread was not caught in time, it would lead to a major weaving defect that would damage the entire fabric.
This was just the very first method to be incorporated into the Toyota production system. Here are all the methods that stemmed from Toyota and are used in today’s lean manufacturing.


Toyoda’s catching and repairing of the broken thread started the process of his invention of a system in which the machine or manufacturing process would stop whenever an abnormality was detected. He wanted to make the machine free from such mistakes, which he set out to accomplish using an overarching approached called Jidouka. In Japanese, this word means automation. However, Toyoda made a slight change in its writing, allowing it to be translated as autonomation – automation with a human touch.

Toyoda’s Five Whys Approach 

In his invention of the TPS, Toyoda used what he called the principle of five whys, which is an integral part of the TPS and is one of its foundations. The five whys approach called for Toyoda to ask “why?” five times whenever a problem occurred with the system. Asking five whys allowed him to get to the root of the problem rather than just addressing and repairing the symptoms of the malfunction.

The Loom that Led to the First Assembly Line

One of Toyoda’s greatest achievements came in 1925 when he invented the Model G loom. The loom ran entirely on its own and required no human interaction or supervision at all. Its operators only had to occasionally restock its shuttles with yarn for its automatic shuttle changer. It was the world’s most advanced loom: It significantly improved both the quality and production of fabric. Thanks to its invention, a single unskilled worker could supervise between 30 and 50 separate looms. The demand for these automated looms grew dramatically all over the world and Toyoda built his first assembly line in 1927 to satisfy the demand for these looms. The looms moved automatically from station to station on the assembly lines used to create them. He sold the automatic loom’s patent in 1929 to Platt Brothers, a British company. Interestingly, the sale of the loom’s patent generated the starting capital for the development of the automobile company.

The JIT Approach and Founding of the Toyota Motor Company 

Shortly after selling the patent to his automated loom, Toyoda began manufacturing automobiles in 1933 as a separate, devoted division of his Toyoda Automatic Loom Works. The manufacturing of automobiles in the factory was headed by Toyoda’s son Kiichiro.

By 1937, the auto manufacturing division officially separated from the automated loom manufacturing portion of the company – the Toyota Motor Company was officially founded.
Under Kiichiro Toyoda’s guidance, it became its own independent company. Kiichiro wanted to make the best automobile in the world. Its very first model was called the Model A. It has a Chrysler body, a frame and rear axle made by Ford, and a front axle and engine manufactured by Chevrolet. At the time, the TPS was like nothing ever before seen in the world.

By this time, the TPS incorporated another theoretical invention of Sakichi Toyoda, an automation concept called Just-in-Time, or JIT. This concept originally stemmed from an incident during which Kiichiro missed a train while in England. The train actually left on time. However, Kiichiro was a few seconds late to catch the train.

From that seemingly inconsequential incident, Sakichi developed a concept by which materials for the TPS should arrive at the factory just when they are needed rather than too early or too late. He introduced and incorporated this concept into the TPS in 1936.

Taiichi Ohno: Decrease of Lot Size and the Advent of the TPS

While credit for the TPS is largely credited to Sakichi Toyoda, its actual improvement if not its actual birth must be credited to a Japanese industrial engineer and businessman named Taiichi Ohno. Ohno joined the Toyota Motor Company in 1943 and was immediately tasked with heading the machining shop. At the time, this shop featured machines being operated by skilled craftsman.

Under Ohno’s leadership, the machining shop was transformed into a sequence of operations in which the machines were arranged so that each craftsman was in charge of multiple machines. This transformation reduced the size of lots in the shop and paved the way for each craftsman to head between 5 to 10 separate machines.

The Revolution of Manufacturing Organization from Push to Pull

Another change credited to Ohno was the revolution of the manufacturing organization, which incorporated Toyoda’s JIT concept. Ohno put this concept fully into practice shortly after he took over the machining shop.

Prior to his arrival, the actual manufacturing that took place in the shop was planned out well in advance. The managers and supervisors had to try to guess or estimate what customer demand would be and then determine what type and how many goods to manufacture based on that estimate. The program for production was then pushed through manufacturing in a process that was literally known as the push system. Of course, this system was greatly flawed because there was no real way to predict how much and what kinds of products customers would actually buy.

The predictions of the push system were often incorrect, resulting in too many or too few products being made at any given time.

Under Ohno’s guidance, the push system was abandoned in favor of keeping track of inventory and reproducing only what customers pulled out of stocks. This system was called the pull system and was based on the same system used by American supermarkets at the time.

In essence, the system took note of what customers pulled off the shelves and purchased. The goods sold in the highest quantities and at the fastest pace were manufactured and replenished.

Ohno implemented the pull system fully into the TPS in 1948.

The KANBAN System

The pull system offered a number of advantages to manufacturing and the TPS, but it was not without its flaws. Namely, there was no way to quickly relay information from the supermarket back to the production plant. In its earliest stages, the system required someone to write down the product names and quantity on a piece of paper and then send it to the production facility.

As time went on, the paper on which the information was written down was substituted by permanent cards, complete with color coding and detailed information – the system is called Kanban. The cards went in a circle. Whenever a customer took parts off the supermarket shelves, the cards themselves went back into production. They then passed through production together with a variety of other products. They eventually ended up back on the supermarket shelves with reduced goods and thus ready for the next cycle.

Continuous Improvement

Eiji Toyoda implemented another concept, called continuous improvement, that would become a cornerstone of the TPS. He gained this idea from a Ford booklet that he obtained and brought back with him after visiting a Ford production factory. The booklet outlined the philosophy of always encouraging employees to give their ideas for improvement.

Inspired by this idea, Eiji introduced into the TPS and Toyota Motor Company in 1950. Interestingly, Toyota maintained the idea while Ford eventually abandoned it.

The Line Stop and Andon Light System

Another concept introduced in 1050 was the line stop. The concept behind this idea enveloped the same principle of automation introduced and developed by Sakichi Toyoda. In essence, it stopped the production whenever there was an abnormality or defect identified in the system.

Ohno himself also applied this system to the assembly lines. He took it a step further by insisting that supervisors rush over to help a worker who identified a defect or abnormality but could not repair or address it quickly enough within his allotted time. While this idea is greatly attributed to the Toyota Motor Company and TPS, it is not entirely foreign to other auto manufacturers.

Henry Ford a concept similar to the line stop in his own factory as early as 1930.

As expected, the concept initially led to a significant number of stops in the assembly line and production. The process itself at the time was not stable enough to be continued. However, Ohno improved the system over time, which allowed the production lines to begin operating smoothly and more efficiently.

Its improvement was owed to a technology called the Andon light system. This system involved the illumination of a green light when everything was in order, a yellow light when small problems were found, and a red light for when the line has to stop immediately in the factory.


Modern Car Production Lines

Modern car production lines that are in use today are not actually much different than the basic Ford systems of yesteryear when you look at the very basics. Automobiles still go from station to station and worker to worker along a steady assembly line. The individual workers all perform their assigned tasks at their assigned stations. When each worker is finished, and when each task is completed, a brand new vehicle that is showroom quality and ready to drive rolls off the assembly line.

Recent Changes

While the basic assembly line processes are more or less the same, that is not to say that they have been immune to recent innovations.

  • Standardization – The key difference between now and then involves decentralization of production: most of the parts used in making cars are no longer made in-house. They are manufactured by other suppliers at other factories elsewhere in the country or around the globe. These suppliers also use their own versions of assembly lines to make automobile parts. Auto manufacturers may have their own production facilities where they make their own car parts. The facilities are not located in the same building as the car manufacturing plant. They may not even be located in the same city, state, or country as the automobile manufacturing plant. The concept behind buying or making car parts elsewhere from the actual car manufacturing plant involves standardization. Standardization is a concept that was perfected by Ford with its interchangeable parts.
  • Platform Sharing – Henry Ford used to say to customers when selling his Model T car: “You can have any color as long as it’s black.” His assembly line at the time did not have the capability of making vehicles in any other color but black. Today, car manufacturers make automobiles in a variety of colors, makes, and models. There is much more freedom now in assembly line production thanks to the innovations introduced by people like Toyoda, Ohno, and others. That freedom itself is based on a concept called platform sharing. Platform sharing involves a car company designing and creating cars to share parts with other makes and models of vehicles. This way, they are able to produce more models easily.
  • Robotics – Today’s assembly lines feature mechanization of parts and tools. Production is handled in many aspects by robots that have taken the place of human workers. At some points in the assembly line, the work gets done through a combination of robot and human labor. Robots have come in useful for automobile production because many aspects of making cars are actually dangerous and physically taxing. It involves repetitive movements that put strain and stress on the human body. Robots spare human workers this risk. They make it safer and easier in many ways to create new vehicles on an assembly line.
  • Factory Design and Cleanliness – Finally, the modern assembly lines of today are often hailed as being clean and featuring light and open designs. They are no longer the crowded, dirty, greasy, and unsafe facilities that they once were in the earliest days of automobile manufacturing.


Types of Production Lines

Car manufacturers use a variety of different production lines in their factories today. The type that is used in a facility will depend on the actual conditions within the factory. It will also depend on what kind of performance is needed within the factory itself.

The I-line

The most basic and simplest assembly line is the I-line. It is a straight line that is short and, in some cases, not automated. It does not have any bends and offers easy access for both operators and material.

It is important that an I-line assembly line be short; if it’s too long, it will create an impediment because it takes too long to go from one side of the I-line to the other.

It also can increase the waste when supervising the line because of the long walking distances. The operators can only oversee a limited number of processes, which include their own as well as two adjacent ones.

The U-line

The U-line is the type of assembly line used in lean manufacturing today. It is the most well-known and garners the highest amount of praise for being the best layout. It offers the best solution to manual manufacturing. However, even this line can create challenges if there is more than one operator within the U-shape. In fact, operators must always be within the U portion of the line because the materials and tools are supplied from the outside. The set up calls for different chutes and slides to bring materials over the line, which are rolled across the line by rollers that are found under the line itself.

The U-line requires a separate operator whose job it is to handle the refill processes for the device. The primary advantage with the U-line centers on the fact that all processes are close at hand. The operators can oversee not only their own processes but also those that are adjacent to them. They additionally can see the processes taking place on the other side of the U-line.

U-lines come into play when the handling of multiple machines is required. A worker can handle the work being done both at the beginning and end of the line because of how the line is set up.

Its scale can also be adjusted to be scaled either up or down. Supervisors simply have to move workers to scale up or down the operations on the U-line. When there is a high demand for production, the supervisors can assign a single worker to every station. When production demands are low, a single worker can be posted for all of the stations.

The S-Line

This type of assembly line is most commonly used in the automotive industry. It is created by using multiple I-lines that are arranged in such a way to create the S shape. When utilized in large plants, it can easily be longer than a mile. By utilizing this shape, logistics and material transport are not wasted, and it fits much easier into the plant.

The L-line

The L-line is the last assembly line design found in factories today. The L-line is typically borne out of necessity because the plant simply does not have enough space for another kind of production line. It is similar in design to the I-line and presents the same challenges.

Handcrafted Cars

While these are the most common types of assembly lines found in many car manufacturing plants today, they are not utilized by a select few car manufacturers. Namely, Aston Martin and Ferrari prefer to handcraft their automobiles.

Each one of these companies’ vehicles is custom made to each customer’s specifications. In fact, they will even custom mold the driver’s seat to the customer’s precise measurements. With that, the companies have no use for assembly lines in their production facilities.


Merging Material Flows within Manufacturing

The above-mentioned line layouts are found in a plethora of car factories today. However, in other facilities, a merging of manufacturing lines can be found. In rare instances, manufacturing lines might be temporarily or permanently split up particularly when the factory must make different products.

The primary advantage of a secondary manufacturing line merging with the mainline is fast use of materials. In fact, factory owners will often have no need for a warehouse to store excess materials because they will immediately be used up during production.

However, in order for this setup to work, the pace and demand of the secondary line must keep pace with the demand and speed of the first. When both lines keep apace with each other, there is no inventory to keep track of store.

The three types of merging lines found in factories today include the:

  • Comb line, which involves all secondary lines merging from one side of the line
  • Spine line, which involves sub-assembly lines coming from all sides. This is also called a fishbone line
  • Complex line sometimes called a value stream, which involves many branches and complex systems that combine all types of lines into one

All three of these lines facilitate the fast and steady use of inventory, eliminating the need for an additional warehouse, which can save companies money.


Modern Production, the Environment, and Worker Satisfaction

The industrial revolution launched an unprecedented rate of productivity and manufacturing around the world. Never before had technology that enabled interchangeable parts and assembly lines been found anywhere else.

This technology is responsible for the convenience and wealth of products and services that people everywhere now enjoy and largely take for granted on a daily basis. Moreover, today’s global prosperity is owed significantly to the invention, maintenance, and continued improvement of the manufacturing processes.

Assembly Line Improvements

The improvements found in assembly lines today places a higher value on the various parts of the highly refined processes used in factories today. Manufacturing today takes place through what is called concurrent processes – a multitude of parallel activities all take place to feed into the final stages of assembly.

These activities are hallmarked by sophisticated communications, production schedules, and material flow plans, all of which are powered by computer technology that also tracks the systems and helps reduce the costs of holding and keeping track of inventories.

Modern assembly lines also incorporate a concept called Joint Application Development, or JAD. JAD joins people working in business areas of production with those working in the information technology or IT area of a single production facility. Its primary advantage centers on dramatically reducing the amount of time that it takes to complete a single project.

The Environmental Factor

Moreover, production lines today not only work to clean up their very architecture. They also operate significantly to improve the environment that surrounds the facilities in which they are located. A good case in point would be the Subaru plant that is located in Lafayette, Indiana. This plant recycles 99.8 percent of the waste generated by its production activities.

Further, many global companies, car manufacturers included, are now encouraging their suppliers to either take back or to recycle their own packaging. Recycling or taking back packaging cuts down on the costs faced by the supplier. It also means they have to buy fewer packaging supplies as well. Many are finding that even irregular parts that otherwise would be thrown away can be recycled and re-purposed for new uses.

The Human Factor

It is little secret in the industry that car plant workers often get bored at their jobs. They perform the same tasks day after day, eventually losing interest in what they are doing. When they lose interest, they compromise the production goal and the quality output of the product.

To address worker boredom, companies like Toyota now provide exercise and recreational opportunities for workers. Workers exercise together during breaks and have the chance to relax and mingle during their shifts.

They also are provided with improved innovations that make doing their jobs easier and more interesting. These new improvements speed up the pace at which they can make products and get cars off the assembly line. They enjoy working with fewer materials, which alleviates not only their boredom but also the physical and mental strain that can come with their jobs.

Companies like Toyota also give their workers a vested interest in the company. They benefit through profit sharing, bonuses, and other financial incentives. These monetary perks are designed to ramp up production and keep workers engaged on a daily basis. The better they work, the more they boost their own paychecks.

While the focus of improving assembly lines and production may not have primarily centered on the human experience, company owners have found a unique incentive for keeping their staff happy while on the job.

The quality of the product, as well as the pace of production, rests significantly on how well the workers in the factory actually like doing their jobs.

When they are given incentives like financial bonuses as well as a new technology with which to work, employees are more likely to commit themselves to the project. They also are less likely to take risks with their own jobs and health while on the factory floor.

The ability to mingle, exercise, and feel connected to the rest of the production team has been proven to boost worker morale. With boosted morale, quality and pace at which the assembly lines operate improve. This aspect of improving assembly lines has just as much importance as protecting the environment, cutting costs, and making vehicles that are showroom ready.



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From a contract manufacturing firm, BuntyLLC evolved into a full service custom machined, forged and cast metal parts fabrication enterprise. We supply global solutions from our headquarters in Greenville, South Carolina.

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