In 1913, when Henry Ford rolled out the first Model-T from a factory in Highland Park, MI, the manufacturing process was forever changed. Seventeen million cars later, this moving assembly line increased the quality and speed of manufactured goods while simultaneously lowering prices.
Exact tolerances could be obtained in the factory environment that were not achievable before large-line production became commonplace, resulting in improved quality. Due to ever increasing efficiency of the assembly line, speed of production also increased. The first Model-T’s took over 12 hours to build, but by 1927, the factory cut production time dramatically, spitting out an impressive 9,000-10,000 cars per day. Assembly line production also allowed the price to plummet. In 1925, the price of a touring car version of the Model T was just $290, $560 less than the initial price in 1909.
This new, improved quality and efficiency, plus the drop in price, was unique thanks to the production system, where prices for the product diminished as better cars were manufactured. We have seen similar improvements in almost every industry where mass production is employed. For instance, many credit a lesser known Ford employee, William “Pa” Klann, with the innovative manufacturing process after observing a slaughterhouse in Chicago. What works with meat, works with cars and even works with elevators and modular building overall.
In the construction industry, assembly line production of various components in a commercial building is now commonplace. Just like the Model-T, quality and speed of production increases while prices drop. It is now realized that quality can be increased when efficiency is introduced in a factory setting, even when building the various parts of a commercial structure.
The downside to Henry Ford’s assembly line dream of an affordable car for the masses and the argument of some detractors of a manufacturing process, is that choice is restricted. As proof of the lack of flexibility, it is pointed out that Henry Ford famously equipped, “Any customer can have a car painted any color that he wants, so long as it is black.” Although the earliest Model-T’s came in several colors, by 1914, there was precious little versatility in the “Tin Lizzy.” It turns out that black paint was less expensive and it had a shorter drying time, so color was sacrificed for efficiency.
The image of the all black Model-T led many to incorrectly assume that something manufactured in a factory setting will always result in less choice. While some segments of manufacturing have limited choice, this is not true for all. For example, when a modular manufactured elevator is produced and installed, the interior designers and architects have complete control over the look of the cab design, as well as the size of the elevator, number of stops and the type of propulsion (hydraulic, traction or machine roomless), just like the stick-built version. The elevators can be constructed to match any interior and exterior design.
The only difference between an old-fashioned, stick-built elevator and a modular is the construction layout. Modular elevators are constructed horizontally on a factory floor to ensure stringent standards are met, resulting in increased quality while also allowing for faster construction and fewer job site delays. It also means that the elevator will be competitively priced and take less time to install. A modular elevator has approximately eight weeks of lead time and a one week installation time, while a stick-built elevator can take between six months to a year or more from start to finish.
Current modular elevators are high quality and built with exacting standards, and unless you know you are in a factory-built elevator, you would never know the difference. And unlike the Model-T, they come in more colors than black.