What innovations led to Ford's production line?

TPMB4

Quite Involved in Discussions
A recent thread on Fordism got me thinking about what allowed the most famous innovation of Henry Ford - the production line - to come into existence.

One example I remember seeing on a documentary once was standardisation of constituent parts. I can't remember it all but a British businessman who made guns for the British Army who defined standard sizes for components used in his weapons. It allowed for closer tolerances and a more accurate weapon.

It also allowed for "off the shelf" components. Prior to his ideas everything was effectively custom made and unique. I think we have improved this so much since those days but the first is always important and this first I think is really important.

Anyone got any other ideas for innovations that allowed Ford to develop his production line? Or who can elaborate on my example as I can't remember the guy's name and could be wrong about some of the details too?
 

Jim G

Involved In Discussions
Re: What innovations led to Ford's production line??

Eli Whitney in 1801 made 10 guns all with the same parts. He dismantled them in front of congress in a mixed up pile and then reassembled them. Congress was stunned!!
Two years later Marc Isambard Brunel used the first large scale mass production process to make 100,000 pulley blocks at Portsmouth Docks. Richard Beamish, assistant to Isambard Kingdom Brunel said: "Ten men, by the aid of this machinery, can accomplish with uniformity, celerity and ease, what formerly required the uncertain labour of one hundred and ten."

"Merda taurorum animas conturbit"
 

Big Jim

Admin
Lewis and Clark took rifles on their expedition that had interchangeable parts. They also took spare parts for them.

Somewhere in my reading over the years about Henry Ford it was mentioned that the meat packing industry had already moved to "disassembly" lines in the slaughter and processing of animals. The suggestion was that these meat processing lines are reverse assembly lines. I don't know if Ford had any exposure to the meat packing industry for inspiration, but the inference is that it was one of the influences to his methods.
 

TPMB4

Quite Involved in Discussions
I think I got the guns bit mixed in with the standardization bit. I think you are right it was in America with the guns but I am certain there was a Brit who standardized screws or nuts and bolts used in some product. IIRC he produced a whole range of standardized parts which was still used in more modern times (well until metric versions became more prevalent in countries outside of America/Canada).

I must admit I need to do some private research into this. It interests me the path from completely unique and different parts through to the modern production where there is a high degree of uniformity in products. This is kind of what the quality function is a key part of I guess. Just what were the innovation steps from unique craftsmen based production to modern production environment which you could say came from Ford's plant? I bet there were many smaller steps and it is too simplistic to say that before Ford's plant there was nothing. I wonder if his "big idea" was really that innovative or just another smaller step in the industrial journey.

I guess I must find some time to look into it, maybe retirement in several decades will give me that time!!
 

Wes Bucey

Prophet of Profit
I think I got the guns bit mixed in with the standardization bit. I think you are right it was in America with the guns but I am certain there was a Brit who standardized screws or nuts and bolts used in some product. IIRC he produced a whole range of standardized parts which was still used in more modern times (well until metric versions became more prevalent in countries outside of America/Canada).

I must admit I need to do some private research into this. It interests me the path from completely unique and different parts through to the modern production where there is a high degree of uniformity in products. This is kind of what the quality function is a key part of I guess. Just what were the innovation steps from unique craftsmen based production to modern production environment which you could say came from Ford's plant? I bet there were many smaller steps and it is too simplistic to say that before Ford's plant there was nothing. I wonder if his "big idea" was really that innovative or just another smaller step in the industrial journey.

I guess I must find some time to look into it, maybe retirement in several decades will give me that time!!
The idea of "standards" has been around a long time. Archaeological evidence confirms that building stones for pyramids, temples, etc. constructed thousands of years ago were quarried and cut to size (using a standard measuring stick and some other basic tools like squares and levels to assure uniformity) so they could be assembled at the building site. The archaeological evidence is that the stone chips from cutting to size were at the quarries, NOT at the building sites. Even in the absence of documents, this evidence argues for the concept of a written plan detailing the size and number of building blocks and where they would be applied.

The Bible describes the process for King Solomon's Temple
1 Kings 6

New International Version (NIV)

Solomon Builds the Temple

6 In the four hundred and eightieth[a] year after the Israelites came out of Egypt, in the fourth year of Solomon’s reign over Israel, in the month of Ziv, the second month, he began to build the temple of the Lord.
2 The temple that King Solomon built for the Lord was sixty cubits long, twenty wide and thirty high.
3 The portico at the front of the main hall of the temple extended the width of the temple, that is twenty cubits,[c] and projected ten cubits[d] from the front of the temple.
4 He made narrow windows high up in the temple walls.
5 Against the walls of the main hall and inner sanctuary he built a structure around the building, in which there were side rooms.
6 The lowest floor was five cubits[e] wide, the middle floor six cubits[f] and the third floor seven.[g] He made offset ledges around the outside of the temple so that nothing would be inserted into the temple walls.
7 In building the temple, only blocks dressed at the quarry were used, and no hammer, chisel or any other iron tool was heard at the temple site while it was being built.
 

TPMB4

Quite Involved in Discussions
Also the Chinese had a system where volumes of dry goods like rice were measured using bells standardized to a particular set of notes. The sound of the bell was fixed which meant it had a fixed volume. It is relatively easy for people to check that they weren't being diddled by just listening to the sound of the bell shaped measuring container. Neat idea (it was on some documentary I watched so I do hope it is true).

Having said that, I do reckon that there is a difference in standard metrology such as a standard definition of distance or volume and that of machined, cast or otherwise worked items complex in nature. I mean a bolt is not just of a certain length, it can have different heads, thickness of the threaded section, size of the thread, etc. It uses standardized measurements to define these but then another level of standardization is then applied. This I think is a bit more than x cubits by y cubits by z cubits to define a block of stone. Although obviously whenever anything is fixed precisely and controlled by a centralised system (the pharoanic system, the system originating form the first published tables of standardized bolts, etc,) it is is a step forward in the journey.

The Pharoanic (bad spelling) system was never continued into the modern era, there was a break in the continuity whereas the French introduction of metric for example has a continuity into today as does the earliest standardization of nuts/bolts/screws/etc. That can be argued to lead into the production line of Ford in a way the earliest cultures' systems can not. Perhaps early Chinese systems could have a claim for continuity in China I really don't know.
 
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