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Mass production of aeroplanes.

Mass production (also called flow production, repetitive flow production, series production, or serial production) is the production of large amounts of standardized products, including and especially on assembly lines. The concepts of mass production are applied to various kinds of products, from fluids and particulates handled in bulk (such as food, fuel, chemicals, and mined minerals) to discrete solid parts (such as fasteners) to assemblies of such parts (such as household appliances and automobiles).


Mass production of assemblies typically uses electric-motor-powered moving tracks or conveyor belts to move partially complete products to workers, who perform simple repetitive tasks. It improves on earlier high-throughput, continuous-flow mass production made possible by the steam engine.

Mass production of fluid and particulate matter typically involves pipes with pumps or augers to transfer partially complete product between vessels.

Mass production is capital intensive and energy intensive, as it uses a high proportion of machinery and energy in relation to workers. It is also usually automated to the highest extent possible. With fewer labour costs and a faster rate of production, capital and energy are increased while total expenditure per unit of product is decreased. However, the machinery that is needed to set up a mass production line (such as robots and machine presses) is so expensive that there must be some assurance that the product is to be successful to attain profits.

One of the descriptions of mass production is that the craftsmanship is in the workbench itself, not the training of the worker; for example, rather than having a skilled worker measure every dimension of each part of the product against the plans or the other parts as it is being formed, there are jigs and gauge blocks that are ready at hand to ensure that the part is made to fit this set-up. It has already been checked that the finished part will be to specifications to fit all the other finished parts - and it will be made more quickly, with no time spent on finishing the parts to fit one another. This is the specialized capital required for mass production; each workbench is different and each set of tools at each workbench limited to those necessary to make one part. As each of these parts is uniformly and consistently constructed, interchangeability of components is thus another hallmark of mass produced goods.

Use of assembly lines in mass production

Robots palletizing food in a bakery
Mass production systems are usually organized into assembly lines. The assemblies pass by on a conveyor, or if they are heavy, hung from an overhead monorail.

In a factory for a complex product, rather than one assembly line, there may be many auxiliary assembly lines feeding sub-assemblies (i.e. car engines or seats) to a backbone "main" assembly line. A diagram of a typical mass-production factory looks more like the skeleton of a fish than a single line.

Advantages and disadvantages

The economies of mass production come from several sources. The primary cause is a reduction of nonproductive effort of all types. In craft production, the craftsman must bustle about a shop, getting parts and assembling them. He must locate and use many tools many times for varying tasks. In mass production, each worker repeats one or a few related tasks that use the same tool to perform identical or near-identical operations on a stream of products. The exact tool and parts are always at hand, having been moved down the assembly line consecutively. The worker spends little or no time retrieving and/or preparing materials and tools, and so the time taken to manufacture a product using mass production is shorter than when using traditional methods.

The probability of human error and variation is also reduced, as tasks are predominantly carried out by machinery. A reduction in labour costs, as well as an increased rate of production, enables a company to produce a larger quantity of one product at a lower cost than using traditional, non-linear methods.

However, mass production is inflexible because it is difficult to alter a design or production process after a production line is implemented. Also, all products produced on one production line will be identical or very similar, and introducing variety to satisfy individual tastes is not easy. However, some variety can be achieved by applying different finishes and decorations at the end of the production line if necessary.

Vertical integration

Vertical integration is a business practice that involves gaining complete control over a product's production, from raw materials to final assembly.

In the age of mass production, this caused shipping and trade problems in that shipping systems were unable to transport huge volumes of finished automobiles (in Henry Ford's case) without causing damage, and also government policies imposed trade barriers on finished units.


Mass production was popularized in the 1910s and 1920s by Henry Ford's Ford Motor Company, which introduced electric motors to the then-well-known technique of chain or sequential production and, in the process, began a new era often called the "second industrial revolution." Ford's contribution to mass production was synthetic in nature, collating and improving upon existing methods of sequential production and applying electric power to them, resulting in extremely-high-throughput, continuous-flow mass production, making the Model T affordable and, as such, an instant hit.

Although the Ford Motor Company brought mass production to new heights, it was a synthesizer and extrapolator of ideas rather than being the first creator of mass production. Ships had been mass-produced using pre-manufactured parts and assembly lines in Venicemarker several hundred years earlier. The Venice Arsenalmarker apparently produced nearly one ship every day, in what was effectively the world's first factory which, at its height, employed 16,000 people.

Mass production in the publishing industry has been commonplace since Johannes Gutenberg's Bible was published using a printing press in the mid-1400s.

During the Industrial Revolution simple mass production techniques were used at the Portsmouth Block Mills to manufacture ships' pulley blocks for the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. These were also used in the manufacture of clocks and watches, and in the manufacture of small arms.

During the American Civil War the Springfield Armorymarker started to mass produce guns, using interchangeable parts on a large scale. The interchangeable part in manufacturing gun was strongly advocated by Eli Whitney. For this reason, the term Armory practice is occasionally used to refer to mass production. Soon after the war the American System of Watch Manufacturing showed that these techniques could be successfully applied even when very high precision was required. Later, in the 1890s, dollar watches traded off lower precision for much lower manufacturing costs.

Taking a look back at the history of American manufacturing, the key features of mass production were the perfect interchangeability of parts in the goods produced, long production runs and large quantity of outputs that were homogeneous. These key features were developed out of the earlier non-mechanized factory system known as the American system.

While the preceding American system of manufacturing relied on steam power, mass production factories were electrified and used sophisticated machinery. Adoption of these techniques coincided with the birth of the second industrial revolution in the US and its emergence as the dominant industrial superpower in the 20th century. Countries that were quick to follow in its wake (e.g. Germany and Japan) enjoyed high rates of growth.

French political thinker and historian Alexis de Tocqueville identified one of the key reasons mass production was able to succeed so quickly in America, namely that of the homogeneous consumer base. De Tocqueville wrote in his Democracy in America (1835) that "The absence in the United States of those vast accumulations of wealth which favor the expenditures of large sums on articles of mere luxury... impact to the productions of American industry a character distinct from that of other countries' industries. [Production is geared toward] articles suited to the wants of the whole people".

See also


  1. Womack, Jones, Roos; The Machine That Changed The World, Rawson & Associates, New York. Published by Simon & Schuster, 1990.
  2. Roaring Twenties - The Economy of the 1920s,

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