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Ford's automotive assembly line celebrates 100th anniversary

Wed, 09 Oct 2013

A mere century ago, on Oct. 7, 1913, Henry Ford rigged up a rope tow to get Model T chassis across the floor of his Highland Park assembly plant -- essentially winching cars across the factory floor and adding a set schedule of parts at certain intervals.

The implementation may have been a bit primitive, but Ford was on the cusp something big: applying the concepts of the moving assembly line to the complicated, costly process of automobile production.

Ford and his engineers continued to refine the assembly line, strategically breaking Model T production up into 84 distinct steps where each of the car's roughly 3,000 parts was bolted together.

Before the implementation of the assembly line, production time for a Model T was about 12 hours. The technological breakthrough brought that time down to about 90 minutes -- and that was just the beginning. By the year 1927, Model Ts were flying off the Highland Park lines at a rate of about one every 24 seconds. During its production, 15 million of the cars were sold worldwide, accounting for half of all automobiles sold at the time.

Ford's vision was to manufacture a car that would be affordable and appeal to the masses. The assembly line was part of the formula to save manpower, as well as time, and it was ultimately responsible for lowering the price of the Model T from $850 to as little as $260.

Ford Motor Co. -- along with very nearly every automaker on the planet – is employing the same basic assembly line principles today, but much of the assembly process is aided by fleets of robots, computers and other automated machinery. New tech enables greater flexibility -- Ford is currently working toward a four-year goal in which each of its factories will have the ability to produce four different models. But the drive for the sort of efficiency Henry “Any color so long as it's black” Ford would have appreciated is still there. The automaker plans to have all its vehicles built off of just nine platforms, as opposed to the current 15 platforms, within the next four years.

“One hundred years ago, my great-grandfather had a vision to build safe and efficient transportation for everyone,” said Ford's executive chairman, Bill Ford, on the assembly line's birthday. “I am proud he was able to bring the freedom of mobility to millions by making cars affordable to families and that his vision of serving people still drives everything we do today.”

By Natalie Sejnost