Robotic arm

Mass Production: A BMW

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Jun 4, 2013    •    838 Views

I wonder if Henry Ford would have been surprised by this 15 minute BMW factory production video tour (below). Few people, lots of robots, the process begins with a colorless shell and ends with the BMW moving off the assembly line. Slow moving and yet mesmerizing, the video displays 21st century manufacturing, and the reality of robotics complemented by human oversight.

At the beginning of the 19th century, describing his plans for a “car for the multitudes, ” Henry Ford said, “The way to make automobiles is to make one automobile like another automobile, to make them all alike,…just like one pin is like another pin when it comes from a pin factory…” But that meant precision tools had to be designed like a “multiple drilling machine that could drill simultaneously 45 holes in one cylinder block from 4 directions in 1 1/2 minutes.” The next step, implemented in 1913, was the moving assembly line that he based on the “overhead trolley that the Chicago packers use on dressing beef.”


Before the moving assembly line, “250 assemblers, with a stationary assembling location for each chassis, the assemblers being served by 80 component carriers, worked 9 hours per day for 26 days to turn out 6,182 chassis assemblies. Total labor hours 330 x 9 x 26= 77,220 hours, giving 12 hours and 28 minutes for labor time to each chassis, about as good as was ever done with stationary chassis assembling.”

After the moving assembly line, in 1914, that 12 hour 28 minute assembly time per chassis plunged to 1 hour 33 minutes!

Fast forward 99 years to a BMW auto factory in Germany:

Sources and Resources: My Henry Ford quotes are from a wonderful out-of-print book edited by Alfred D. Chandler, Giant Enterprise, pp. 34-43. The BMW video and links to others like it are here.

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