What's an Assembly Line?

Find out the history of assemly lines and what benefits there are to using them in the manufacturing process.

The Definition

To assemble is to put things together systematically with the intention of coming up with a desired unit or product.

An assembly line is a highly mechanized process employing the use of cranes and conveyor belts to move products between subsequent operations.

It's a division of labor and specialization system in which work is passed from one operation to the next, as the pieces are collected to form the final product.

This principle is common in manufacturing firms and was heralded by Henry Ford and Ransom Olds. Since then it has found wide application in other industries.

History of Assembly Line

The idea of interchangeable parts was brought up by the need to manufacture 'easy to repair' products quickly, at large numbers, and in less costly ways. Before the industrial revolution, workers were unskilled and products were handmade which took time.

Eli Whitney came up with the concept of interchangeable parts during the industrial revolution. Labor was divided between specialized workers and machines, specific tasks being assigned to each operation.

This concept would later be improved on by Ransom Olds who wanted to increase production of automobiles. He was not only able to cut on cost of manufacturing vehicles but also managed to enhance the features, thereby coming up with stylish cars at large quantities.

Henry Ford enhanced this idea by use of gravity conveyor belts concept to move the heavy unfinished products between workstations. This helped him to cut down on labor and increase efficiency in the manufacturing process.

ford assembly line

With the advancement of technology, cranes and robots have been added to the assembly line process. Robots can handle tasks repeatedly and uninterruptedly.

Research is going on to develop robots with artificial intelligence that can deal with human-scale tasks and improve on products quality.

Benefits of the Assembly Line Process

Increased productivity

Mass production is possible in a quick and efficient manner. Because of the division of labor and specialization aspect, specific operations are handled separately. Machines are used to lift heavy equipment and reduce on time.

Minimal skill requirement

Workers are only allowed to engage in the tasks they know and therefore do not need knowledge of the entire operation. This makes it easier to train the hired workers in their specific fields. It increases efficiency as mastery of skills is possible.

Easy to handle repairs and breakdowns

The concept of interchangeable parts makes it possible to substitute worn out parts with suitable ones. In addition, a breakdown in the production process can easily be detected, isolated and handled because of the straight line of production.

Job opportunity to immigrants

Whether they are skilled or unskilled, education is not a 'must' requirement since training on the required techniques can be done easily.

immigrants are kept busy in the production, so the unemployment is cut down in great measure.

Disadvantages of the Assembly Line Process

Costly

Large capital is required to come up with the set up. Machines such as cranes, forklifts and conveyor belts are needed, human skill also.

Tiresome

Handling tasks repeatedly can be tiresome, causing fatigue in humans and leading to loss of attention. Lack of alertness means that one part of the system can be held back, slowing down the production process.

The bottom line is that the assembly line is a great invention and, with the addition of appropriate technology and technical knowledge, mass production is guaranteed.