Henry Ford's moving assembly line celebrated 100 years later

Ford's revolutionary moving assembly line is 100 years old


WAYNE, Mich. – A Model T would, at first glance, seems out of place next to a modern assembly line at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant.

But Ford is celebrating old and new on the 100th anniversary of the moving assembly line. Henry Ford launched it in Highland Park on this day in 1913.

Watch: Uniquely Detroit: Saving the home of the Model T

"The Model T, which was introduced in 1908, was enormously popular," said Bob Casey, former curator of transportation at The Henry Ford Museum. "They couldn't keep up with the demand, so they needed to make more cars."

Ropes pulled cars along the first assembly line, which featured 84 distinct steps. The dramatic improvement in efficiency enabled Ford to lower the selling price from $850 to just less than $300.

The 3,000 parts were assembled into identical cars. A century later, Michigan Assembly in Wayne turns out gasoline-powered vehicles, hybrids and electric cars.

"If demand for the hybrid goes up, it doesn't change the operation much. We are flexible in meeting the demands of the market," said Dave Torosian, site facility manager for Michigan Assembly.

The plant uses more than 900 robots, but the comfort and safety of nearly 5,000 workers is a priority. Vehicles under construction are raised or lowered to a height that fits that of the workers. Noise levels in final assembly are low enough that hearing protection isn't needed. Also, Ford's "virtual factory" uses computer simulations to measure how employees will reach and stretch while they work.

Casey says Henry Ford improved on other assembly lines 100 years ago, including tin can production and meat packing.

"One of the things that intrigues me is how open about the technology Henry Ford was. It was no secret. Anyone could come in and watch it," he said.

Much has changed in 100 years, but the goals remain the same: Satisfy the customer, control costs, and improve quality.