Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Remembering Henry Ford and Handcrafting Excellence

Its been a 100 years since Henry ford introduced the mass-assembly line for his Model-T automobile- an event which changed the entire history of manufacturing- an event which has been surprisingly remembered by very few people now. Whenever I pass by a road side shop, or even an impromptu pavement shop(hogging the sidewalk)- like on the banks of the Cooum River on Harrington Road, Chetput- where those who look like (not sure) migrants from north India seem to be painstakingly crafting hand-woven cane chairs- I always recollect Henry Ford and his assembly line.

That epochal invention enabled Ford to churn out his cars at the rate of one every 90 Minutes (source:Wiki)- a mind boggling rate of turnover for the first time in history. Despite all the cribbing about the lack of personal care in mass production- the fact that the consumers (the entire world) shifted over to the system- proves that mass assembly line wins hands-over when compared to the lonely craftsman in his little cottage working on the skills passed over to him over generations to craft a single piece for a discerning customer. Now, we get the same quality at a lesser price due to mass production.

The quality of the workers life increased with more leisure time and their collective bargaining power through the formation of unions has increased their economic strengths (despite the communists denying that fact). For, despite whatever Mahatma Gandhi thought of village-based cottage industries they were not merely inefficient for a generation with more purchasing power- they also condemned those workers and their future generations to that narrow way of life and same profession. Now, anyone can become anything with a little hard work, diligence and education- there are no vocations-for-life to buttonhole someone from birth.

The next logical step up the evolutionary scale for mankind is total automation- preferably robots. As demonstrated over the past century, machines- designed for it- work faster, better and are in the long run cheaper. which is why i greatly admire Japan, which as a society has been open minded enough to accept robots and robotics in greater ease compared to some other paranoid countries which look on automation with dis-favour even after so many years. The Japanese have proved with their economic success that the way forward is more automation with robots than less and there is simply no other way to support the earths burgeoning population with the ease to which we all aspire.

And once mass-market robots come into everyday use- at least industrially- the human race is going to evolve in to a whole new something else. With plenty of leisure time (and thinking time) available to everyone (and not merely the elite or moneyed)- I predict a whole new revolution in arts and science- when everyone is able to do what they wish to do- than have to do.

The coming century promises to be one full of wondrous hope- when we are all going to achieve great things- unlike what the prophets of doom and gloom tell us. The world is not coming to an end, so fasten your seat belts people, we are going to pick up speed.