A production line, also called an assembly line or factory line, refers to the organized path of assembly for a product. In most cases, the production line centers on a conveyor belt or other mechanical system that physically moves the product from one station to the next, and it is a common misnomer to call this conveyor a production line. At each station in the production process, a factory worker or machine adds a piece to the finished product, performs a quality control check or some other job that is essential to the completion of the project.
The first production lines were not used for the assembly of products. The original concept of the production line was used to turn raw products, such as cotton fibers, into usable goods by assigning workers individual roles in the process. From this concept, the automated assembly line used in modern manufacturing was born.
The production line was first conceptualized by Eli Whitney, but the concept did not see its full fruition until 1913, when Henry Ford brought the concept to work in the mass production of automobiles. Using the production line concept, Ford was able to create a moving line of cars in various stages of assembly that passed by the factory worker's stations. As the cars arrived at each station, another component was added, and the car was then sent to the next station.
With production lines, mass production became a much simpler task, and many man-hours were eliminated for each automobile produced. This allowed the manufacturing of automobiles that were affordable at a rate that could keep up with the public demand for the new technology. Witnessing Ford's success, many other manufacturers began to implement the production line concept in their own organizations, thus making the process the industry standard.
As production lines have been further streamlined over the years that followed, manufacturers have been able to create more advanced technology and other products using less labor. Mass production via production line assembly has created lower prices and higher quality for the end products of the manufacturing process. In some cases, the production-line process has become so streamlined that human factory workers have been replaced by machines that can further cut costs and increase productivity. This automation of the process has made it possible to remove the human element from dangerous jobs and use machines to complete tasks that formerly required a human factory worker to risk life or limb.