Published: March 28, 2024

Since the introduction of mass production in 1913 assembly lines are still mostly human — humanoids might change this

Henry Ford is known as the father of mass production, streamlining the production of his “Model T” enabling cars to be widespread affordable. One of the key innovations at the time was to use a conveyor belt in the assembly lane that paced the production process. Yet, actual labor was mostly manual and still is today, for example looking at engine assembly at BMW in 2024.

Mass production at Henry Ford’s Model T factory in 1913 (left, public domain) and engine assembly at BMW in 2024 (right, picture from here).

Pacing an assembly line by what is known by the german word “Takt” or cycle time, is indeed a key idea to make an assembly process predictable. The throughput of a factory is directly related to its Takt, which in turn is driven by the slowest contributor, and directly relates to the sojourn time of an order in an assembly line. In a human-driven environment, people might eventually adapt to the cycle time of the processes around them, which is beautifully captured in a the figure below that shows the acquisition of speed skill in a cigar manufacturing factory.

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