Vroom! Vroom! There's nothing quite like the sound of an automobile's engine firing to life. When you sit behind the wheel and slip the transmission into drive, the possibilities are endless. Of course, most trips might be to school, work, the grocery store, or the soccer field. However, every once in a while, you might be hitting the highway for an epic road trip!
If you're usually the passenger in a vehicle, you might not give automobiles much thought. If you open the hood or look underneath a vehicle, however, you'll realize that a modern automobile is an amazing combination of thousands and thousands of parts that all have to work together in unison to get you from point A to point B.
When automobiles were first invented, the very first cars were entirely made by hand by just a few workers. Today, however, millions and millions of vehicles fill streets all over the world. It's obviously not possible for each of these incredibly complex and technologically advanced machines to be made by hand by a few workers. So exactly how are cars made today?
Although modern automobile manufacturing techniques are obviously way more advanced than they were over a century ago, one key thing remains at the heart of the process: the assembly line. Rather than requiring a single worker to complete multiple tasks to complete the assembly of a vehicle, the assembly line allows the vehicle to travel down a conveyor belt to individual stations, where workers perform a particular task on each vehicle as it travels past their station.
In this way, vehicles can be assembled quickly and efficiently. Workers specialize in a specific task, becoming more skilled and faster in its completion. This process also allows many vehicles to be in production simultaneously.
The person usually credited with pioneering the process of using assembly lines to manufacture automobiles efficiently is Henry Ford. At his first factory, a Ford Model T car could be assembled from start to finish in just over 90 minutes.
The concept at the heart of the assembly line and automobile manufacturing overall is division of labor. Long ago, a product would be produced by a single artisan who would do the entire job from start to finish by himself. In a division of labor system, however, all the manufacturing steps are split up with many people completing small pieces until the product is complete.
Modern automobiles feature thousands and thousands of parts. For example, a single automobile assembly plant might receive component parts from as many as 4,000 outside suppliers. From pieces of metal and tires to electronic circuits and plastic and glass parts, it would be impossible for any one person to make or even assemble all of these complex, specialized pieces into a complete, functioning automobile.
Not only does division of labor allow automobiles to be assembled more quickly and efficiently, it also allows them to be manufactured more cheaply. Henry Ford's improvements to the assembly line system allowed cars to be made for a price that allowed the average American to hit the open road. In turn, American society was revolutionized as travel became more popular and widespread.
Even though modern assembly lines still work on the same principles perfected by Henry Ford over a century ago, today's automobiles benefit from advanced technologies that continue to make processes more efficient. For example, robots now perform many of the simple, repetitive tasks that used to be done by humans. In addition, automated carts controlled by computers are now used to shuttle products between stations where human workers perform their specialized tasks.
The technologies used to make a car will continue to change as the automobiles being manufactured change. Today, more and more vehicles feature electric battery systems to improve fuel efficiency by reducing reliance upon gasoline engines. As electric automobiles become more common, manufacturing processes will have to change to accommodate the latest technologies.