Mass production (also called flow production or repetitive flow production) is the production of large amounts of standardized products on production lines. It was popularised by Henry Ford in the early 20th Century, notably in his Ford Model T. Mass production is notable because it permits very high rates of production per worker and therefore provides very inexpensive products. Mass production is capital intensive, as it uses a high proportion of machinery in relation to workers. With fewer labour costs and a faster rate of production, capital is increased while expenditure is decreased. However the machinery that is needed to set up a mass production line is so expensive that there must be some assurance that the product is to be successful so the company can get a return on its investment. Machinery for mass production such as robots and machine presses have high installation costs.
One of the descriptions of mass production is that the craftsmanship is in the workbench itself, not the training of the worker; 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 quicker, 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.
Use of assembly lines in mass production
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. This is also used in food manufacturer to produce foods continuously.
Characteristics of mass & flow production:
- Special purpose machines and product type layout: Special purpose machines are used and the plant assembly stages are laid out on the basis of product layout, the layout-by-sequence.
- Lesser flexibility in production schedules: Interruptions due to breakdowns and absenteeism seriously affect production as stoppage of one machine usually disturbs the working of other machines. Systematic maintenance and “provisioning of stand-by operators” are, therefore, two major management functions.
Importance of mass production:
- Continuous flow of material: The flow of materials is continuous and there is little or no queuing at any stage of processing.
- Mechanized materials handling: Materials handling is comparatively less firstly because materials move through a short distance between stages and secondly the materials handling activity is mostly mechanized by conveyors and transfer machines.
- Low skilled labor: Relatively low skilled labor is employed.
- Short manufacturing cycle time: The manufacturing cycle time is very short. The machine capacities are balanced by duplicating machines wherever necessary.
- Easy supervision: Supervision is relatively easier as only few instructions are necessary and that too at the start of the job.
- Limited work- in- progress: Work-in-progress is comparatively less since the manufacturing line is balanced.
Examples of mass production systems:
Flow production involves a continuous movement of items through the production process. This means that when one task is finished the next task must start immediately. Therefore, the time taken on each task must be the same. Flow production (often known as mass production) involves the use of production lines such as in a car manufacturer where doors, engines, bonnets and wheels are added to a chassis as it moves along the assembly line. It is appropriate when firms are looking to produce a high volume of similar items.
Advantages of mass production systems:
Flow production is capital intensive. This means it uses a high proportion of machinery in relation to workers, as is the case on an assembly line. The advantage of this is that a high number of products can roll off assembly lines at very low cost. This is because production can continue at night and over weekends and also firms can benefit from economies of scale, which should lower the cost per unit of production.
Disadvantages of mass production systems:
The main disadvantage is that with so much machinery it is very difficult to alter the production process. This makes production inflexible and means that all products have to be very similar or standardized and cannot be tailored to individual tastes. However some “variety” can be achieved by applying different finishes decorations etc at the end of the production line.