Skip to content
Skip to main content

About this free course

Download this course

Share this free course

Understanding operations management
Understanding operations management

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

2.2.2 Mass production

In many industries, craft manufacturing began to be replaced by mass production in the 19th century. Mass production involves producing goods in high volume with low variety – the opposite of craft manufacturing. Customers are expected to buy what is supplied, rather than goods made to their own specifications. Producers concentrated on keeping costs, and hence prices, down by minimising the variety of both components and products and setting up large production runs. They developed aggressive advertising and employed sales forces to market their products.

An important innovation in operations that made mass production possible was the system of standardised and interchangeable parts known as the ‘American system of manufacture’ (Hounshell, 1984), which developed in the United States and spread to the United Kingdom and other countries. Instead of being produced for a specific machine or piece of equipment, parts were made to a standard design that could be used in different models. This greatly reduced the amount of work required in cutting, filing and fitting individual parts, and meant that people or companies could specialise in particular parts of the production process.

A second innovation was the development by Frederick Taylor (1911) of the system of 'scientific management’, which sought to redesign jobs using similar principles to those used in designing machines. Taylor argued that the role of management was to analyse jobs in order to find the ‘one best way’ of performing any task or sequence of tasks, rather than allowing workers to determine how to perform their jobs. By breaking down activities into tasks that were sequential, logical and easy to understand, each worker would have narrowly defined and repetitious tasks to perform, at high speed and therefore with low costs (Kanigel, 1999).

A third innovation was the development of the moving assembly line by Henry Ford. Instead of workers bringing all the parts and tools to a fixed location where one car was put together at a time, the assembly line brought the cars to the workers. Ford thus extended the ideas of scientific management, with the assembly line controlling the pace of production. This completed the development of a system through which large volumes of standardised products could be assembled by unskilled workers at constantly decreasing costs – the apogee of mass production.