The Assembly Line Analysis

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The assembly line has historically been lauded for the success it brought to the auto industry, specifically during the production of the Model T built by the Ford Motor Company starting in 1908. What is often overlooked, however, is the human toll of this technological invention. Despite the exponential growth in efficiency and profit resulting from the assembly line and the higher employee wages that followed, worker satisfaction suffered. Frederick Taylor’s principles of “Scientific Management” were evident during the early years of the assembly line. Workers were increasingly seen as robots, and their only true measure of success was how much they could produce. As Taylor himself once stated, “in the past the man has been first; in …show more content…
Most prior advances in manufacturing had been achieved by applying specific changes to machines to make them more efficient This scientific approach, however, disregarded the human element, so that Taylor in effect changed the method of work from a relationship between worker and machine into a relationship between two machines (Taylor 110). Proponents of scientific management believed that workers wanted to be used efficiently, to perform their work with minimum effort, and to receive more money for that work (Herzberg 6). They also assumed that workers would submit to a rigid standardization of physical movements with no ability to change the processes. These improved “systems” discounted the human element and what motivated them, leaving the worker dissatisfied with his job.
Taylor’s theories ultimately inspired Henry Ford to revamp the way cars were being built through the division and subdivision of labor. Job tasks were simplified and the adoption of new technologies removed skill from ordinary work tasks. Workers were confined to a specific work station and waited for the car to be brought to them on an assembly line. They completed the same task, repeatedly, working at the pace of the
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By 1917 the Ford highland Park factory consisted of 55% unskilled workers (Meyer 4). Prior to the assembly line the building of the automobile required the services of highly skilled men. The automation and specification of job processes eliminated the need for certain skill sets. The machines took over the “thinking” and required minimal input from the workers themselves. The need for this new “unskilled” workforce drew many foreign-born workers to the factory. In 1914 foreign-born workers accounted for 75% of the 14,000 workers at the Highland Park factory (Meyer 3). With the innovation of the assembly line and the changing workforce that accompanied it, a morale problem developed within the rank and file factory worker. In 1913, daily absenteeism averaged 10% per day, yielding a yearly labor turnover rate of 370 percent. With the increased rates of absenteeism Ford was forced to hire an additional 1,300-1,400 extra workers to keep up with the demands of manufacturing the Model T (Meyer

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