How The Ford Model T Took Over The World
The Ford Model T was not the first car. Depending on how you define what a car is, that honor was achieved 100 years before. Ford did not invent the automobile heinvented something much more profound. He created modern society. His manufacturing techniques did not just revolutionize how we design and build everything making complicated machinery like tractors and cars affordable for the masses, his manufacturing techniques radically changed the trajectories of billions of people’s career.
At the turn of the 18th century craft manufacturing was the status quo. Defined by a highly skilled workforce. People wishing to pursue a career in automotive manufacturing, entered their career and progressed through an apprenticeship. Picking up a huge variety of skills gradually learning the tricks of the trade and been masters of their craft. Only the best craft manufacturer survived.
At the high point of the Model T success in 1923. Ford was manufacturing 2.1 million Model T’s a year. A figure that would only be matched by a single vehicle model again with the VW Beetle. Many people chalk Henry Ford’s success down to inflexibility in design. The painting process he used allowed the paint to dry quickly, and it was only available in black.
The Model T was no fluke, it was the culmination in over 20 design iterations over 5 years. Each one tweaking the design and manufacturing procedure to cut seconds off the total process, and the innovations continued through the nearly 20 years of production, that would see a total of 15 million Model T’s manufactured.
How on earth did Ford achieved this quantum leap forward in manufacturing speed?
One of the reasons highly skilled workers were essential to these industries before Ford came along, was because of the high variability between parts. in engineering,. we call this tolerancing. Metals need to be heated and cooled in specific ways to strengthen or harden the metal, but this makes the metal much harder to cut and shape. so the metals were often cut first and heat treated after. This heating and cooling, causes the metal to deform due to the thermal expansion, which can then throw the original piece out of tolerance. This is called warping and it made it nylon impossible to get a consistent final product.
Advancements of precision measurement and manufacturing allowed Ford to be confident that parts would be interchangeable, and in turn this allowed Ford to design his vehicle sin a way that reduced costs. This was the dawn of destruction for the craft manufacturing industry and the beginning of a movement that would change the face of modern society.
When Ford eventually decided to completely redesign the Model T and produce the Model A, these machines were thrown out, but he had achieved his goal, cycle times were lowering, and there was still room to improve. Ford managed to half cycle times from 2.3 minutes to 1.2 minutes, with his next innovation. Ford introduced dedicated stock suppliers whose only job was to ensure that other workers had the parts, they needed to keep production running at a constant pace where possible these employees were replaced with automated supply lines. This idea grew and evolved to the introduction of Ford’s greatest manufacturing innovation, the moving assembly line a manufacturing technique still in use today.
Ford was not the first to introduce such an idea, he applied it as a science. Using his engineering skills to help pioneer a new branch of engineering, industrial engineering. A branch of engineering mostly concerned with optimizing the logistics of manufacturing.
The moving assembly line forces all workers to work at the same pace, faster workers can’t produce items faster than they are needed, and slower workers can’t slack off.
Ford’s innovations catapulted the Ford Motor Company to international success. Ford actually paid his workers incredibly well for the time, but that meant little when demand dropped and these workers had few transferrable skills to gain new employment. For better or worse, Ford’s innovations completely changed the job market for billions of people.