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Ford and Fordism

This article presents Ford and his particular focus on efficient and streamlined production, which was later called Fordism.
© Luleå University of Technology

Who was Henry Ford?

Henry Ford was the founder of the Ford motor company and made significant contributions to the development of production systems.

A famous saying from Ford is found in his book from 1922, My life and work, in which he writes that a worker in Ford’s car factory shall be able to afford the car he makes. He also famously stated that people can buy the T-ford in any colour they like, as long as its black, which hints at the limitations of his techniques.

Ford managed to make this a possibility by utilising assembly lines, division of labour over different stations, standard components (like Eli Whitney used for the muskets as discussed in a previous step) and control over the entire production process/factory system.

Fordism

Some of the important principles that Ford held were:

  • The energy supply should be locally generated and distributed to the factory.
  • Accuracy was highly important for a product with high quality.
  • The workplace/factory area should be used economically and things should be stored to take up as little space as possible.
  • Clear systematic workflows should exist both for how material was purchased and distributed but also each part of the factory and the assembly lines.
  • Continuity and planning with close estimation of delivery was important.
  • Speed was important and each operation had a maximum allowed time, which the workers on the assembly line were expected to reach.

Fordism was essentially the idea of maximising the benefits of large-scale production.

Problems with Ford’s production system

While Fords system was very efficient compared to previous systems that had come before it, it also had some problems.

  • It was specifically designed for high volume and low variation; custom solutions were not supported when the market was asking for more custom products.
  • The working conditions in Ford’s factories were tough and workers often suffered from very intense and hard labour.
In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of Ford’s system and “Fordism”? Do you have any ideas for improvements that you would make?

Please write your answer in the comment section and discuss with other students.

© Luleå University of Technology
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