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Ford unstoppable a century on

2013-10-09 10:09

STILL BUILDING STRONG: Ford celebrates 100 years of its moving assembly line this week. Above workers are seen building a car at the Ford Highlands plant in 1923. Image: Ford

Ford is celebrating 100 years of its moving vehicle assembly line this week and even though Henry Ford revolutionised the industry way back then the company continues to raise the benchmark. Ford is so far ahead with technology for the next generation of building cars, it’s scary!

DEARBORN, Michigan – Henry Ford might have revolutionised the motor industry a century ago but he probably had no idea that his company a century later would continue to grow at such an alarming rate.

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One hundred years ago this week, Henry Ford and his team at Highland Park assembly plant launched the world’s greatest contribution to manufacturing – the first moving assembly line and it meant the Model T’s 1000 parts could be assembled in 84 distinct steps by groups of workers as a rope pulled the vehicle chassis along the line.

This innovation accelerated per-vehicle production from 12 hours to only 90 minutes. The savings in money, time and manpower enabled good old Henry to cut the price of a Ford Model T almost immediately from $850 to less than $300. Eventually, a Model T was assembled every 24 seconds and sold more than 15-million worldwide by 1927.

At that time, that was half of all automobiles sold by then.

Bob Casey, a former curator at The Henry Ford Museum and author of The Model T: A Centennial History, said: “Ford’s new approach spread rapidly, not only to other automakers but also to manufacturers of phonographs, vacuum cleaners, refrigerators and other consumer goods. The assembly line became the characteristic American mode of production."

In 1914 Ford created the "$5 workday" to enable his employees to buy the vehicles they built. The move created loyalty among Ford workers and is credited with giving rise to a new middle class to "chase the American dream".


Ford has opened seven more plants in the past two years and will add another seven globally by 2015. This means the company will build four models - on average - at each plant around the world. Production has also accelerated way past even Henry's achievement: Ford now completes 16 cars, globally, every 60 seconds; six-million will be sold in the next year.

Ford says that is the largest manufacturing expansion in 50 years with eight new assembly and six new engine/gearbox plants globally to support the surging demand. Although the automaker is excelling with new technology that might need less people to work in its plants, the company will still retain about 130 000 jobs around the world.

Its new manufacturing techniques include 3D printing, advanced prototyping, robotics and virtual simulation. The company also projects 90% of its plants around the world will be running on a three-shift or crew model by 2017. By 2017, Fords will be built on nine core platforms. Currently there are 15.


Ford executive chairman Bill Ford said: “100 years ago my great-grandfather had a vision to build safe and efficient vehicles for everybody. I'm proud he was able to bring the freedom of mobility to millions by making cars affordable and that his vision of serving people still drives everything we do today.”

Ford’s global manufacturing VP John Fleming said: “Henry Ford’s core principles of quality parts, workflow, division of labour and efficiency still resonate today. Building on that tradition, we’re accelerating our efforts to standardise production, make factories more flexible and introduce advanced technologies to build efficiently the best vehicles possible at the best value for our customers.”


The automakers engineers have been developing means to change the shape of the future, almost literally.

The company’s engineers are developing a flexible, first-of-its-kind, patented technology to rapidly form sheet-metal parts for low-volume production use. Ford says the technology, known as Ford Freeform Fabrication Technology, or F3T, will lower costs and speed delivery times for prototype stamping moulds – within three days versus two to six months for prototypes made using conventional methods.

Ford is also expanding its 3D printing, which creates production-representative 3D parts layer by layer for testable prototypes. With 3D printing, Ford can create multiple versions of one part at a time and deliver prototype parts to engineers for testing in days rather than months.

There are also robotic innovations to improve vehicle quality and production efficiencies such as the new dirt detection system which uses robotic vision to create a digital model of each vehicle in final assembly to analyze paint and surface imperfections in comparison with a perfect model.

Ford’s chief technical officer and VP of research and innovation Paul Mascarenas said:  “Technologies such as 3D printing, robotics and virtual manufacturing may live in research but have real-world applications for tomorrow and beyond.

“We use Henry Ford’s spirit of innovation as a benchmark for bringing new technologies into the manufacturing process.”


Traffic analysis, robotic test drivers… Ford’s R720-million investment in technology is bearing fruit, the latest being an auto-parking system that works whether the driver is at the wheel or not. Watch the videos below:

Video: Ford's self-parking car
Video: Ford's obstacle avoidance tech

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