Current State of Affairs

Over 100 years later, automakers around the world still use the same basic model for mass production. No matter how high-tech factories have become, a bare automotive chassis is still transformed into a complete car by way of the assembly line.

Of course, the assembly line has undergone a number of refinements since 1913. Back in Ford’s day, most of the work was done by physical labor. Nowadays, robots and machines have taken over the heavy lifting. For example, Ford’s factory employed 48,000 workers at its peak — a striking comparison to the 500 assembly line workers at the Michigan plant today. In fact, the three-mile-long assembly line at the Michigan Assembly Plant features more than 900 robots.

In addition to advances in manufacturing technology, like robots that can detect imperfections in paint and new 3D modeling systems, Ford is looking to expand the capabilities of its assembly line. Most notably, the company has reduced the number of basic vehicle platforms required for each of its models: in 2017, its vehicles will be constructed using nine core platforms, a reduction from the former 15. With this consolidation of core platforms, Ford can assemble a greater variety of models in each plant.

In the words of Mr. Ford himself, “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs.” Whether the work is done by robots or workers, this impulse towards efficiency and innovation is at the heart of the automotive manufacturing industry today.

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