Learn about Life in the 1920s

Chapter 5 - Getting into Production

If a device would save in time just 10 per cent. or increase results 10 per cent., then its absence is always a 10 per cent. tax. If the time of a person is worth fifty cents an hour, a 10 per cent. saving is worth five cents an hour. If the owner of a skyscraper could increase his income 10 per cent., he would willingly pay half the increase just to know how. The reason why he owns a skyscraper is that science has proved that certain materials, used in a given way, can save space and increase rental incomes. A building thirty stories high needs no more ground space than one five stories high. Getting along with the old-style architecture costs the five-story man the income of twenty-five floors. Save ten steps a day for each of twelve thousand employees and you will have saved fifty miles of wasted motion and misspent energy

Those are the principles on which the production of my plant was built up. They all come practically as of course. In the beginning we tried to get machinists. As the necessity for production increased it became apparent not only that enough machinists were not to be had, but also that skilled men were not necessary in production, and out of this grew a principle that I later want to present in full.

It is self-evident that a majority of the people in the world are not mentally--even if they are physically--capable of making a good living. That is, they are not capable of furnishing with their own hands a sufficient quantity of the goods which this world needs to be able to exchange their unaided product for the goods which they need. I have heard it said, in fact I believe it is quite a current thought, that we have taken skill out of work. We have not. We have put in skill. We have put a higher skill into planning, management, and tool building, and the results of that skill are enjoyed by the man who is not skilled. This I shall later enlarge on.

We have to recognize the unevenness in human mental equipments. If every job in our place required skill the place would never have existed. Sufficiently skilled men to the number needed could not have been trained in a hundred years. A million men working by hand could not even approximate our present daily output. No one could manage a million men. But more important than that, the product of the unaided hands of those million men could not be sold at a price in consonance with buying power. And even if it were possible to imagine such an aggregation and imagine its management and correlation, just think of the area that it would have to occupy! How many of the men would be engaged, not in producing, but in merely carrying from place to place what the other men had produced? I cannot see how under such conditions the men could possibly be paid more than ten or twenty cents a day--for of course it is not the employer who pays wages. He only handles the money. It is the product that pays the wages and it is the management that arranges the production so that the product may pay the wages.

The more economical methods of production did not begin all at once. They began gradually--just as we began gradually to make our own parts. "Model T" was the first motor that we made ourselves. The great economies began in assembling and then extended to other sections so that, while to-day we have skilled mechanics in plenty, they do not produce automobiles--they make it easy for others to produce them. Our skilled men are the tool makers, the experimental workmen, the machinists, and the pattern makers. They are as good as any men in the world--so good, indeed, that they should not be wasted in doing that which the machines they contrive can do better. The rank and file of men come to us unskilled; they learn their jobs within a few hours or a few days. If they do not learn within that time they will never be of any use to us. These men are, many of them, foreigners, and all that is required before they are taken on is that they should be potentially able to do enough work to pay the overhead charges on the floor space they occupy. They do not have to be able-bodied men. We have jobs that require great physical strength--although they are rapidly lessening; we have other jobs that require no strength whatsoever--jobs which, as far as strength is concerned, might be attended to by a child of three.

It is not possible, without going deeply into technical processes, to present the whole development of manufacturing, step by step, in the order in which each thing came about. I do not know that this could be done, because something has been happening nearly every day and nobody can keep track. Take at random a number of the changes. From them it is possible not only to gain some idea of what will happen when this world is put on a production basis, but also to see how much more we pay for things than we ought to, and how much lower wages are than they ought to be, and what a vast field remains to be explored. The Ford Company is only a little way along on the journey.

A Ford car contains about five thousand parts--that is counting screws, nuts, and all. Some of the parts are fairly bulky and others are almost the size of watch parts. In our first assembling we simply started to put a car together at a spot on the floor and workmen brought to it the parts as they were needed in exactly the same way that one builds a house. When we started to make parts it was natural to create a single department of the factory to make that part, but usually one workman performed all of the operations necessary on a small part. The rapid press of production made it necessary to devise plans of production that would avoid having the workers falling over one another. The undirected worker spends more of his time walking about for materials and tools than he does in working; he gets small pay because pedestrianism is not a highly paid line.

The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the men instead of the men to the work. We now have two general principles in all operations--that a man shall never have to take more than one step, if possibly it can be avoided, and that no man need ever stoop over.

The principles of assembly are these:

(1) Place the tools and the men in the sequence of the operation so that
each component part shall travel the least possible distance while in
the process of finishing.
(2) Use work slides or some other form of carrier so that when a workman
completes his operation, he drops the part always in the same
place--which place must always be the most convenient place to his
hand--and if possible have gravity carry the part to the next workman
for his operation.
(3) Use sliding assembling lines by which the parts to be assembled are
delivered at convenient distances.
The net result of the application of these principles is the reduction of the necessity for thought on the part of the worker and the reduction of his movements to a minimum. He does as nearly as possible only one thing with only one movement. The assembling of the chassis is, from the point of view of the non-mechanical mind, our most interesting and perhaps best known operation, and at one time it was an exceedingly important operation. We now ship out the parts for assembly at the point of distribution.

Along about April 1, 1913, we first tried the experiment of an assembly line. We tried it on assembling the flywheel magneto. We try everything in a little way first--we will rip out anything once we discover a better way, but we have to know absolutely that the new way is going to be better than the old before we do anything drastic.

I believe that this was the first moving line ever installed. The idea came in a general way from the overhead trolley that the Chicago packers use in dressing beef. We had previously assembled the fly-wheel magneto in the usual method. With one workman doing a complete job he could turn out from thirty-five to forty pieces in a nine-hour day, or about twenty minutes to an assembly. What he did alone was then spread into twenty-nine operations; that cut down the assembly time to thirteen minutes, ten seconds. Then we raised the height of the line eight inches--this was in 1914--and cut the time to seven minutes. Further experimenting with the speed that the work should move at cut the time down to five minutes. In short, the result is this: by the aid of scientific study one man is now able to do somewhat more than four did only a comparatively few years ago. That line established the efficiency of the method and we now use it everywhere. The assembling of the motor, formerly done by one man, is now divided into eighty-four operations--those men do the work that three times their number formerly did. In a short time we tried out the plan on the chassis.

About the best we had done in stationary chassis assembling was an average of twelve hours and twenty-eight minutes per chassis. We tried the experiment of drawing the chassis with a rope and windlass down a line two hundred fifty feet long. Six assemblers traveled with the chassis and picked up the parts from piles placed along the line. This rough experiment reduced the time to five hours fifty minutes per chassis. In the early part of 1914 we elevated the assembly line. We had adopted the policy of "man-high" work; we had one line twenty-six and three quarter inches and another twenty-four and one half inches from the floor--to suit squads of different heights. The waist-high arrangement and a further subdivision of work so that each man had fewer movements cut down the labour time per chassis to one hour thirty-three minutes. Only the chassis was then assembled in the line. The body was placed on in "John R. Street"--the famous street that runs through our Highland Park factories. Now the line assembles the whole car.

It must not be imagined, however, that all this worked out as quickly as it sounds. The speed of the moving work had to be carefully tried out; in the fly-wheel magneto we first had a speed of sixty inches per minute. That was too fast. Then we tried eighteen inches per minute. That was too slow. Finally we settled on forty-four inches per minute. The idea is that a man must not be hurried in his work--he must have every second necessary but not a single unnecessary second. We have worked out speeds for each assembly, for the success of the chassis assembly caused us gradually to overhaul our entire method of manufacturing and to put all assembling in mechanically driven lines. The chassis assembling line, for instance, goes at a pace of six feet per minute; the front axle assembly line goes at one hundred eighty-nine inches per minute. In the chassis assembling are forty-five separate operations or stations. The first men fasten four mud-guard brackets to the chassis frame; the motor arrives on the tenth operation and so on in detail. Some men do only one or two small operations, others do more. The man who places a part does not fasten it--the part may not be fully in place until after several operations later. The man who puts in a bolt does not put on the nut; the man who puts on the nut does not tighten it. On operation number thirty-four the budding motor gets its gasoline; it has previously received lubrication; on operation number forty-four the radiator is filled with water, and on operation number forty-five the car drives out onto John R. Street.

Essentially the same ideas have been applied to the assembling of the motor. In October, 1913, it required nine hours and fifty-four minutes of labour time to assemble one motor; six months later, by the moving assembly method, this time had been reduced to five hours and fifty-six minutes. Every piece of work in the shops moves; it may move on hooks on overhead chains going to assembly in the exact order in which the parts are required; it may travel on a moving platform, or it may go by gravity, but the point is that there is no lifting or trucking of anything other than materials. Materials are brought in on small trucks or trailers operated by cut-down Ford chassis, which are sufficiently mobile and quick to get in and out of any aisle where they may be required to go. No workman has anything to do with moving or lifting anything. That is all in a separate department--the department of transportation.

We started assembling a motor car in a single factory. Then as we began to make parts, we began to departmentalize so that each department would do only one thing. As the factory is now organized each department makes only a single part or assembles a part. A department is a little factory in itself. The part comes into it as raw material or as a casting, goes through the sequence of machines and heat treatments, or whatever may be required, and leaves that department finished. It was only because of transport ease that the departments were grouped together when we started to manufacture. I did not know that such minute divisions would be possible; but as our production grew and departments multiplied, we actually changed from making automobiles to making parts. Then we found that we had made another new discovery, which was that by no means all of the parts had to be made in one factory. It was not really a discovery--it was something in the nature of going around in a circle to my first manufacturing when I bought the motors and probably ninety per cent. of the parts. When we began to make our own parts we practically took for granted that they all had to be made in the one factory--that there was some special virtue in having a single roof over the manufacture of the entire car. We have now developed away from this. If we build any more large factories, it will be only because the making of a single part must be in such tremendous volume as to require a large unit. I hope that in the course of time the big Highland Park plant will be doing only one or two things. The casting has already been taken away from it and has gone to the River Rouge plant. So now we are on our way back to where we started from--excepting that, instead of buying our parts on the outside, we are beginning to make them in our own factories on the outside.

This is a development which holds exceptional consequences, for it means, as I shall enlarge in a later chapter, that highly standardized, highly subdivided industry need no longer become concentrated in large plants with all the inconveniences of transportation and housing that hamper large plants. A thousand or five hundred men ought to be enough in a single factory; then there would be no problem of transporting them to work or away from work and there would be no slums or any of the other unnatural ways of living incident to the overcrowding that must take place if the workmen are to live within reasonable distances of a very large plant.

Highland Park now has five hundred departments. Down at our Piquette plant we had only eighteen departments, and formerly at Highland Park we had only one hundred and fifty departments. This illustrates how far we are going in the manufacture of parts.

Hardly a week passes without some improvement being made somewhere in machine or process, and sometimes this is made in defiance of what is called "the best shop practice." I recall that a machine manufacturer was once called into conference on the building of a special machine. The specifications called for an output of two hundred per hour.

"This is a mistake," said the manufacturer, "you mean two hundred a day--no machine can be forced to two hundred an hour."

The company officer sent for the man who had designed the machine and they called his attention to the specification. He said:

"Yes, what about it?"

"It can't be done," said the manufacturer positively, "no machine built will do that--it is out of the question."

"Out of the question!" exclaimed the engineer, "if you will come down to the main floor you will see one doing it; we built one to see if it could be done and now we want more like it."

The factory keeps no record of experiments. The foremen and superintendents remember what has been done. If a certain method has formerly been tried and failed, somebody will remember it--but I am not particularly anxious for the men to remember what someone else has tried to do in the past, for then we might quickly accumulate far too many things that could not be done. That is one of the troubles with extensive records. If you keep on recording all of your failures you will shortly have a list showing that there is nothing left for you to try--whereas it by no means follows because one man has failed in a certain method that another man will not succeed.

They told us we could not cast gray iron by our endless chain method and I believe there is a record of failures. But we are doing it. The man who carried through our work either did not know or paid no attention to the previous figures. Likewise we were told that it was out of the question to pour the hot iron directly from the blast furnace into mould. The usual method is to run the iron into pigs, let them season for a time, and then remelt them for casting. But at the River Rouge plant we are casting directly from cupolas that are filled from the blast furnaces. Then, too, a record of failures--particularly if it is a dignified and well-authenticated record--deters a young man from trying. We get some of our best results from letting fools rush in where angels fear to tread.

None of our men are "experts." We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert--because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the "expert" state of mind a great number of things become impossible.

I refuse to recognize that there are impossibilities. I cannot discover that any one knows enough about anything on this earth definitely to say what is and what is not possible. The right kind of experience, the right kind of technical training, ought to enlarge the mind and reduce the number of impossibilities. It unfortunately does nothing of the kind. Most technical training and the average of that which we call experience, provide a record of previous failures and, instead of these failures being taken for what they are worth, they are taken as absolute bars to progress. If some man, calling himself an authority, says that this or that cannot be done, then a horde of unthinking followers start the chorus: "It can't be done."

Take castings. Castings has always been a wasteful process and is so old that it has accumulated many traditions which make improvements extraordinarily difficult to bring about. I believe one authority on moulding declared--before we started our experiments--that any man who said he could reduce costs within half a year wrote himself down as a fraud.

Our foundry used to be much like other foundries. When we cast the first "Model T" cylinders in 1910, everything in the place was done by hand; shovels and wheelbarrows abounded. The work was then either skilled or unskilled; we had moulders and we had labourers. Now we have about five per cent. of thoroughly skilled moulders and core setters, but the remaining 95 per cent. are unskilled, or to put it more accurately, must be skilled in exactly one operation which the most stupid man can learn within two days. The moulding is all done by machinery. Each part which we have to cast has a unit or units of its own--according to the number required in the plan of production. The machinery of the unit is adapted to the single casting; thus the men in the unit each perform a single operation that is always the same. A unit consists of an overhead railway to which at intervals are hung little platforms for the moulds. Without going into technical details, let me say the making of the moulds and the cores, and the packing of the cores, are done with the work in motion on the platforms. The metal is poured at another point as the work moves, and by the time the mould in which the metal has been poured reaches the terminal, it is cool enough to start on its automatic way to cleaning, machining, and assembling. And the platform is moving around for a new load.

Take the development of the piston-rod assembly. Even under the old plan, this operation took only three minutes and did not seem to be one to bother about. There were two benches and twenty-eight men in all; they assembled one hundred seventy-five pistons and rods in a nine-hour day--which means just five seconds over three minutes each. There was no inspection, and many of the piston and rod assemblies came back from the motor assembling line as defective. It is a very simple operation. The workman pushed the pin out of the piston, oiled the pin, slipped the rod in place, put the pin through the rod and piston, tightened one screw, and opened another screw. That was the whole operation. The foreman, examining the operation, could not discover why it should take as much as three minutes. He analyzed the motions with a stop-watch. He found that four hours out of a nine-hour day were spent in walking. The assembler did not go off anywhere, but he had to shift his feet to gather in his materials and to push away his finished piece. In the whole task, each man performed six operations. The foreman devised a new plan; he split the operation into three divisions, put a slide on the bench and three men on each side of it, and an inspector at the end. Instead of one man performing the whole operation, one man then performed only one third of the operation--he performed only as much as he could do without shifting his feet. They cut down the squad from twenty-eight to fourteen men. The former record for twenty-eight men was one hundred seventy-five assemblies a day. Now seven men turn out twenty-six hundred assemblies in eight hours. It is not necessary to calculate the savings there!

Painting the rear axle assembly once gave some trouble. It used to be dipped by hand into a tank of enamel. This required several handlings and the services of two men. Now one man takes care of it all on a special machine, designed and built in the factory. The man now merely hangs the assembly on a moving chain which carries it up over the enamel tank, two levers then thrust thimbles over the ends of the ladle shaft, the paint tank rises six feet, immerses the axle, returns to position, and the axle goes on to the drying oven. The whole cycle of operations now takes just thirteen seconds.

The radiator is a complex affair and soldering it used to be a matter of skill. There are ninety-five tubes in a radiator. Fitting and soldering these tubes in place is by hand a long operation, requiring both skill and patience. Now it is all done by a machine which will make twelve hundred radiator cores in eight hours; then they are soldered in place by being carried through a furnace by a conveyor. No tinsmith work and so no skill are required.

We used to rivet the crank-case arms to the crank-case, using pneumatic hammers which were supposed to be the latest development. It took six men to hold the hammers and six men to hold the casings, and the din was terrific. Now an automatic press operated by one man, who does nothing else, gets through five times as much work in a day as those twelve men did.

In the Piquette plant the cylinder casting traveled four thousand feet in the course of finishing; now it travels only slightly over three hundred feet.

There is no manual handling of material. There is not a single hand operation. If a machine can be made automatic, it is made automatic. Not a single operation is ever considered as being done in the best or cheapest way. At that, only about ten per cent. of our tools are special; the others are regular machines adjusted to the particular job. And they are placed almost side by side. We put more machinery per square foot of floor space than any other factory in the world--every foot of space not used carries an overhead expense. We want none of that waste. Yet there is all the room needed--no man has too much room and no man has too little room. Dividing and subdividing operations, keeping the work in motion--those are the keynotes of production. But also it is to be remembered that all the parts are designed so that they can be most easily made. And the saving? Although the comparison is not quite fair, it is startling. If at our present rate of production we employed the same number of men per car that we did when we began in 1903--and those men were only for assembly--we should to-day require a force of more than two hundred thousand. We have less than fifty thousand men on automobile production at our highest point of around four thousand cars a day!

Chapter 6 - Machines and Men >>>