The assembly line was never invented but rather developed over time. Prior to the assembly line, in order to mass produce something would require teams of craftsmen to build one unit at a time. The more complex the unit was, the more time it took to build, and also the harder it was to control quality as when it came time to assemble the unit trimming and modification would take place to ensure that the piece could be assembled. Some huge problems with the approach to mass production are the problems of quality control, efficacy, and speed. The process of production began to change over to an assembly line method during the industrial revolution. The first linear and continuous assembly line was the Portsmouth Block Mill in England. They had developed 22 machine tools to fabricate pulley blocks for the British Navy. Their process was so efficient and successful that the plant operated from 1805 right on through to 1960.
With each new assembly line came greater efficiency, speed, and consistent quality; but there was one man that turned mass production into a science. In his book My Life and Work, Henry Ford outlines 3 principles for the ideal assembly line:
(1) Place the tools and the men in the sequence of the operation so that each component part shall travel the least possible distance while in the process of finishing.
(2) Use work slides or some other form of carrier so that when a workman completes his operation, he drops the part always in the same place—which place must always be the most convenient place to his hand—and if possible have gravity carry the part to the next workman for his operation.
(3) Use sliding assembling lines by which the parts to be assembled are delivered at convenient distances.
Henry Ford had revolutionized the assembly process of all manufacturing with his 3 guidelines. His process of manufacturing was influential for many people in the industrial and manufacturing field. His process was largely responsible for the style of architecture that made Jean Prouve so famous. Jean Prouve actually admired the work that Henry Ford did, and greatly admired his ability to turn out consistent parts in a timely manner. Prouve used this as a basis to design and then manufacture many of his prefabricated homes; most notably Maison Tropicale.
Citations:Ford, Henry. My Life and Work. N.p.: Doubleday, 2007.
"Henry Ford Changes the World, 1908," EyeWitness to History www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2005).
"Portsmouth Royal Dockyard Historical Trust."