An assembly line is a form of mass production where components are added in a specific, efficient order to create a finished product at the end of a line. In contrast to craftsman-based manufacturing, which requires workers with a broad range of skills working to complete a product simultaneously, assembly lines isolate the addition of each component and create the finished piece through a series of orderly, specific steps. Though not universally popular, the advantages of an assembly line can be significant, and may include greater employment opportunities, more uniform products, increased efficiency, and even a potential for higher working wages.
One of the biggest advantages of assembly line manufacturing is that it reduces the skill requirements for line workers. When manufacturing a doll, a craftsman may have to know how to mold the body, attach hair, paint the face, and sew the clothing. Assembly manufacturing, however, isolates one specific task or set of tasks to each worker, meaning that it is easier to train new workers and mastery of the skill may come faster. Additionally, automated assembly lines may be easier to create than craftsman-based versions, because machines may only be able to perform a limited number of specific tasks.
A benefit of the task-isolation principle is it makes it easier to understand where breakdowns in efficiency occur. If products are moving along on schedule until they reach a certain point in the line, it is easy to see that the speed-reduction in speed occurs at a specific point. This may make efficiency issues easier to address, since problems may be immediately apparent and have specific solutions that can be quickly applied.
Increased production and better uniformity are two other advantages of assembly methods. Since the line is optimized for speed and efficiency, and tasks are limited, most lines can turn out products much faster than traditional methods of manufacturing. Since every product is put together in the same order, at the same speed, by the same technicians, variations in quality are also less likely. With products that need to be manufactured in large quantities at a rapid rate, assembly lines may be the most efficient choice of manufacturing structure.
In terms of wages, there are both advantages and disadvantages to assembly lines. Since employees on a line are typically less skilled and educated, their wage range is generally lower than educated craftsmen with multiple skills. On the other hand, the savings created by efficiency, fast production, and automation can mean the unskilled or semi-skilled laborers are paid higher than their counterparts at non-assembly based manufacturing jobs.
One final advantage of an assembly line is the ease of progression from unskilled to skilled labor. Manufacturing plants may start new workers at jobs that require the least skills, but as a worker masters his or her particular task, he or she may get opportunities for more highly-skilled positions that build directly on basic task abilities. This means that there may be a high chance for career advancement within an assembly line plant.