Ford's Legacy of Throughput and the B-24 Bomber

This 1941 video of an incredible example of the highly efficient continuous flow production that the Ford Industries accomplished at the Willow Run Bomber Plant during WW II. Despite the era of pre-computerized inventory, Henry Ford was able to produce one B-24 bomber, composed of over 1.25 million parts, every 55 minutes! Our thanks to Dr. Jeffrey Liker for sharing this piece of history. The video is narrated, so turn on your sound.

Is this not the ultimate production system designed for throughput? There are many lessons for us to learn from manufacturing industries, which is why we have adapted many of these workflow efficiency, continuous flow, smoothing principles and standard work strategies into our own operations. Some of these considerations include:

Workflow Smoothing Opportunities

Structure and management
  • Horizontal management across work stations, divisions
  • Defined workcells, team leaders, teams along path of work, partnerships
Workplace physical redesign
  • U or linear workstations to reduce motion
  • Inventory relocated to workstations
Work redesign
  • Continuous flow and pull
  • Reduction cycle times
  • Front loading work in the paths of workflow
  • Elimination of loops, forks
  • Reduction of steps
  • Maintenance of sequence
  • Load leveling across shifts and hours
  • Batch size reduction
  • Visual workplace to surface defects
  • Standardized activities, connection, pathways
Kanban just-in-time inventory system
  • Production kanbans to promote pull production & communication
  • Inventory kanbans for JIT, recovery of stock room space
Metrics to monitor and target variation
  • Daily metrics to monitor performance variation
  • Whiteboards to identify in-process defects and outliers
  • Feedback loops to inform defect repair in real time by empowered teams

So how do you lead and manage in this way?

Let's go back to our roots as Henry Ford reflected in 1926 about his own approach in creating an efficient manufacturing operation that eventually evolved to the point that he could produce a B-24 bomber an hour-

"Our system of management is not a system at all; it consists of planning the methods of doing the work as well as the work."

Best wishes on your quality improvement journey!