How Model T Thinking Shapes 21st-Century Manufacturing

21st-century manufacturing is based in 20th century tech like the Model T.  Tourists at Gettysburg in a Ford Model T.
“Tourists in a Ford Model T at the ‘Devil’s Den’ at Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, c1910-1915” by crackdog is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

One of the greatest challenges for any successful business is knowing when it’s time to change.  After all, conventional wisdom says “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”   But with 21st-century manufacturing technology changing at such a rapid pace, those who stand still will soon be left behind. 

The last time the world saw technological advancements at this pace, Henry Ford was just figuring out the assembly line.  By looking back at Ford’s adoption of the new technology of his time we may be able to learn how to properly read today’s technological trends. This knowledge will help prepare us for investing in AI and automation at the most advantageous time for our manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution systems.  

Leverage Automation

Sectional view of an early Ford Engine.  21st-century manufacturing built upon 20th century ideas.
“In the Ford Model T, the transmission, magneto, and engine were mounted together as a unit, all lubricated by the same oil” by The Henry Ford is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Henry Ford was not a newcomer to the car business when he began producing the Model T in 1908.  Before starting the Ford Motor Company, Henry worked for several other automotive companies where he contributed to the creation of the Quadricycle and the Ford 999. But he dreamed of a vehicle for ‘the great multitude,’  and so the Model T was born. 

Unfortunately,  the original Model T was still too expensive for most Americans.  When Ford began churning the cars out via assembly line, however, their price dropped significantly. 

In 1909, workers were using traditional methods to piece cars together. That year, a Model T cost $825. Production was under 11,000 units. But in 1916, three years after Ford started using assembly line production,  the Ford Motor Company produced over half a million Model Ts. Each one sold for $345.

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What is Lean Manufacturing?

We answer some of your questions about Lean.

Lean helps all parts of your organization come together as an organized machine.

History of Lean Manufacturing

“Lean Manufacturing” as a term has only been around for a little over 30 years. The term was originally coined by John Krafcik (now CEO of Waymo and former CEO of Hyundai Motor America) in his MIT master’s thesis entitled “Triumph of the Lean Production System.”

Definition: Lean Manufacturing

a practice or process
that seeks to minimize waste while maximizing value to the customer or client.

While Krafcik may have created the term, lean manufacturing has been around for significantly longer. It can be traced back to the work of Eli Whitney, who was the first to successfully manufacture a product with interchangeable parts, and to time and motion studies by engineers like Frederick Taylor and Frank and Lillian Gilbreth applied to industrial workers of the early 20th century. Additionally, Henry Ford’s assembly line was also a leap forward in lean manufacturing.

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