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100 years: Auto assembly lines still moving

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Henry Ford launched the first auto assembly line 100 years ago on October 7, 1913, a truly significant manufacturing innovation that has brought about huge economic and social changes. 

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It began on October 7, 1913 when engineers constructed a crude system using a rope and winch to pull a Ford Model T past 140 workers in a sprawling new factory in Detroit, Michigan's Highland Park dubbed the  Crystal Palace. AFP

Ford’s moving assembly line turns 100


Henry Ford launched the modern assembly line in a suburb of Detroit a century ago — and helped spark a radical transformation of both manufacturing and society.

By drastically reducing the cost of production with standardised parts and more efficient assembly, Ford Motor Co was able to bring the luxury, convenience and freedom of the automobile to the masses.

Other industries soon adopted the innovation and today, everything from cereal to caskets is made on assembly lines.

‘‘It had a huge, huge impact,’’ said Stephen Burnett, a professor with Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.

Standardisation led to lower costs, higher quality and more reliable products.

Most critically, the assembly line cut the amount of time it took to assemble a Model T from 12.5 hours to just 93 minutes.

‘‘Any time you increase the productivity of labour, tremendously valuable things can happen to the economy,’’ Burnett told AFP.

Higher productivity means more profit, some of which is often returned to workers through higher wages. Workers then have more money to buy products, creating what economists call a virtuous cycle of growth.

The assembly line also changed the way people worked and lived, accelerating the shift from rural areas to cities, and increasing the number of people doing repetitive, low-skilled jobs.

While piece work was a time-honoured tradition and the moving assembly line had already transformed the meatpacking industry in Chicago and Cincinnati, it was Ford who found a way to make it work for complex manufacturing.

The assembly line still exists but the workers have changed a bit. This photo was taken at the opening of the passenger car plant in Rayong province, Thailand on 13 July 2009, a joint venture of the Ford Motor Company and Mazda Motor Corporation. EPA

Ford had already cut costs by standardising the vehicle and its parts — the Model T was famously available in any colour the customer wanted, so long as it was black.

But the cost was still too high and the volume too low for the ‘‘great multitude’’ he hoped to reach.

That changed with the assembly line he launched in Highland Park.

Trains filled with parts rolled down the main bay of the Crystal Palace, where cranes slid through the sunlight pouring in from a glass ceiling and lifted the parts up to balconies. Conveyor belts carried parts to workers as cars were pulled from floor to floor.

‘‘It was a beehive of motion when it was in play,’’ Bob Kreipke, Ford's corporate historian, said as he toured the historic plant Ford now uses for storage. ‘‘When he first started he made about 100 cars a day and it got up to 1,000 — which is almost the same as a modern factory.’’

In 1914, Ford’s 13,000 workers built around 300,000 cars — more than his nearly 300 competitors managed to build with 66,350 employees.

The specialisation of the assembly line meant that Ford no longer had to use craftsmen and could instead hire low-skill workers and teach them a few simple steps.

But the monotonous work led to high turnover, leading Ford to double his minimum wage in order to keep his line humming. The five-dollar day was eventually followed by the five-day work week, which meant Ford workers had both the money to buy his cars and the leisure time to use them.

Despite the higher labour costs, Ford’s efficiencies allowed him to eventually lower the price of the Model T from its introductory rate of $850 to $260.

Technological innovations like automation and just-in-time delivery have brought further efficiencies.

Today, just 500 people work directly on the assembly line at Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant, which now builds 605 Focus and C-Max sedans in each of two 10-hour shifts. Some 48,000 people worked at the Crystal Palace at its peak.

You can read the full story here: http://sports.yahoo.com/news/century-ago-fords-assembly-line-changed-society-200512330--nascar.html

Video: An early Ford assembly line in action producing the famous Model T in the 1920s. The 15 millionth Model T left the assembly line in 1927.

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accelerate: to happen or make something happen at a faster rate - เร่ง, เร่งความเร็ว, เพิ่มความเร็ว

adopt: to accept or to start using something new - นำมาใช้

assembly line: a line of workers and machines in a factory, along which a product passes, having parts made, put together or checked at each stage until the product is finished - แนวประกอบชิ้นส่วนของเครื่องในโรงงาน

automation: a system that uses computers and machines to do things and do work instead of people - การนำเครื่องจักรมาใช้แทนคนในการทำงาน

available: that you can get, use, find or buy - มีอยู่, หาได้

balcony: a place where you can stand just outside an upper window. It sticks out from the wall of a building - ระเบียง

bay: a marked section of ground either inside or outside a building, for example for a vehicle to park in, for storing things, etc - พื้นที่หรือบริเวณที่กำหนดไว้

beehive: a structure made for bees to live in; a place full of people who are busy - รังผึ้ง, สถานที่จอแจ

casket: a box for a dead body or, in this case, for the ashes of a dead person - พระโกศ

ceiling: the top inside surface of a room - เพดาน

cereal: food made from the grain of cereals, often eaten for breakfast with milk - อาหารเช้าที่ทำจากธัญพืช (มักจะรับประทานโดยใส่นม)

competitor: a person, team or company that is competing against others - ผู้แข่งขัน, คู่แข่ง

complex: having a lot of details or small parts that make it difficult to understand or deal with - ซับซ้อน

construct: to build or make something, especially buildings, bridges, etc. - สร้าง

convenience: the quality of being suitable for your purposes and needs and causing the least difficulty - ความสะดวกสบาย

conveyor belt: a long moving belt in a factory that sends goods along to workers (on the "assembly line") as they are being made and assembled - สายพานนำส่ง, ยานพาหนะที่มีตีนตะขาบ

corporate: involving large companies - บริษัทใหญ่

craftsmen: people who make beautiful or practical objects using their hands - ช่างฝีมือ

crane: a tall machine used for lifting or moving heavy objects and building tall buildings - ปั้นจั่นยกของหนัก

critical: extremely important because a future situation will be affected by it - สำคัญยิ่ง

crude: simply made, not showing much skill or attention to detail - ที่ไม่มีการพัฒนา

cycle: the fact of a series of events being repeated many times, always in the same order - วงจร, วัฏจักร, ระยะเวลายาวนาน

double: to become twice as big, twice as much or twice as many - เพิ่มเป็นสองเท่า

drastically: extreme in a way that has a sudden, serious or violent effect on something - อย่างมาก, อย่างฮวบฮาบ อย่างรวดเร็ว

dubbed: called; given a name - ถูกเรียก ตั้งฉายา

efficient: effective and well organised (the opposite is inefficient) - มีประสิทธิภาพ

eventually: at the end of a period of time or at the end of a process - ในที่สุด

exist: to be real; to be present in a place or situation - มีอยู่

great multitude: the masses; the ordinary people in society who are not leaders or who are considered to be not very well educated - มวลชน

historian: a person who studies or writes about history; an expert in history - นักประวัติศาสตร์, ผู้เชี่ยวชาญเกี่ยวกับประวัติศาสตร์

hum: to work busily; to be very active -

impact: an effect or influence - ผลกระทบ

industry: the people and activities involved in producing a particular thing, or in providing a particular service; the production of goods from raw materials, especially in factories - อุตสาหกรรม

innovation: the introduction of new things, ideas or ways of doing something; a new idea, way of doing something, etc. that has been introduced or discovered - นวัตกรรม, การคิดขึ้นใหม่, สิ่งที่นำเข้ามาใหม่

joint venture: a business activity carried out by two or more companies or groups - การลงทุนร่วม

labour: work, especially hard physical work - งานที่ใช้พละกำลัง

launch: to start something - เริ่มต้น, เปิดโครงการ, เริ่มทำ

leisure: relating to activities that you do to relax or enjoy yourself - เกี่ยวกับเวลาว่าง

luxury: the best and most expensive of something - ที่หรูหรา 

manufacture: to make and produce a product - ผลิต

minimum: the lowest possible; the lowest allowed - ต่ำที่สุด, น้อยที่สุด

monotonous: never changing and therefore boring - น่าเบื่อหน่าย, ซ้ำซาก

motion: movement - การเคลื่อนไหว

peak: the time when something is at its highest or greatest level - ช่วงเวลาที่พบมากที่สุด

plant: a large factory - โรงงาน

productivity: the rate at which a worker, company or whole country produces goods compared with the resources or inputs needed to produce them such as labour, capital, machines and equipment needed to produce them - ผลิตภาพ; การเพิ่มผลผลิต; ความสามารถในการผลิต

professor: a university teacher of the highest rank - ศาสตราจารย์

profit: money that you make from selling goods and services after all your costs have been paid - กำไร

quality: the standard of something when it is compared to other things like it; how good or bad something is - คุณภาพ

radical: new and very different from what is typical or expected -

reduce: to make something smaller or less in amount, size, importance etc - ลดลง

reliable: (of things or people) able be trusted or believed because they work or behave well in the way you expect - เชื่อถือได้, ไว้ใจได้

repetitive: saying or doing the same thing many times, so that it becomes boring - ซึ่งเกิดซ้ำๆ, ซึ่งกล่าวซ้ำ

rural: connected with the countryside outside big towns and cities  - ในชนบท, บ้านนอก

sedan: a closed car with a front and back seat for  passengers - รถยนต์ส่วนบุคคลสี่ประตู

shift: a change in something - การเปลี่ยน

shift: a period of work time in a factory, hospital or other place where some people work during the day and some work at night - เวร, กะ หรือระยะเวลาทำงานเป็นช่วงๆ,

skilled: having enough ability, experience and knowledge to be able to do something well - มีทักษะ,

so long as: as long as; only if - เท่าที่, ตราบเท่าที่, จนกว่า

spark: to make something happen - ก่อให้เกิด

sprawling: built over a wide area, often in a way that is not carefully planned - เกี่ยวกับพื้นที่กว้างที่ไม่ได้วางแผนอย่างรอบคอบ

standardise: to make objects or activities of the same type have the same features or qualities; to make something standard - วางมาตรฐาน, ปรับเข้ามาตรฐาน

storage: the putting and keeping of things in a special place for use in the future - การเก็บ

suburb: an area or town near a large city but away from its centre - ชานเมือง

the masses: the ordinary people in society who are not leaders or who are considered to be not very well educated - มวลชน

time-honoured: respected because it has been used or done for a long time -

tradition: a very old custom, belief, or story - ประเพณี, ขนบธรรมเนียม

transformation: a complete change in somebody/something - การเปลี่ยนรูป,การแปรรูป,การปฎิรูป,การเปลี่ยนสภาพ

tremendously: extremely, especially in a good way -

turnover: the rate at which employees leave a company and are replaced by other people - อัตราการลาออก

valuable: worth a lot of money - มีค่า

virtuous: behaving in a very good and moral way - ดีงาม, เที่ยงธรรม

volume: an amount of something - ปริมาณ

wage: an amount of money that you earn for working, usually according to how many hours or days you work each week or month - ค่าจ้าง

winch: using a piece of equipment that uses a rope or chain to lift people or things เครื่องกว้าน, เครื่องฉุดดึงหรือยกของหนัก - เครื่องกว้าน, เครื่องฉุดดึงหรือยกของหนัก

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