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What is Mass Production?

By Jane Harmon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Mass production is the creation of many products in a short period of time using time-saving techniques such as assembly lines and specialization. It allows a manufacturer to produce more per worker-hour, and to lower the labor cost of the end product. This in turn allows the product to be sold for a lower cost.

Prior to the wide-spread adoption of mass production techniques, a craftsman built a product from start to finish. This meant that he had to know all aspects of the assembly of the product, including the creation of the individual parts. A cabinetry craftsman, for instance, would have to be able to cut and finish the individual pieces, piece them together, affix the hardware and create whatever decorative effects such as marquetry or inlaid work the finished piece might require. Using mass production techniques, one worker might be responsible for cutting the boards, another for finishing them to size, a third for building the shelving hardware, and so on.

Mass production began during the Industrial Revolution, but took a great leap forward with the innovation of the assembly line, a conveyor that moved the product from one workman to another, with each individual adding their specialty part to the growing whole. On an assembly line, each worker only had to know how to affix or adjust one specific part, and therefore could keep only those tools and parts necessary for his particular task on hand.

Assembly lines brought a great decrease in time to a finished product, yet was attended by a number of less pleasant consequences. Over-specialization meant that individual workers had less marketable skills, which effectively enslaved them to a particular line. Mass production also led to increased incidence of repetitive stress syndrome; the repeated motions of doing the same task hundreds of times a day led to many workers living in pain much of the time. Increasingly, mass production assembly work is being taken over by special-purpose robotics, freeing many workers from the often backbreaking labor, yet resulting in less manufacturing jobs for the workers to compete for.

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Discussion Comments

By miriam98 — On May 29, 2011

@David09 - I wouldn’t bet that the kinds of changes you’re hoping for will happen anytime soon. We subsidize China by buying their incredibly cheap exports, and if they were to pay their workers better and throw in fringe benefits a la the United States, they’d have to raise the prices on their goods.

Would the U.S. still be willing to buy their goods then? It’s just something to think about.

By David09 — On May 28, 2011

@Mammmood - Mass production jobs have been both a blessing and a curse in my opinion. I think I share Upton Sinclair’s somewhat jaded view of the whole thing. In the U.S. it’s not as bad as it once was, but in China it’s awful.

Workers are paid very little to slave away in the factories, they get little if any health benefits, and not unlike Sinclair’s meat factory, I think the government views them as only so much cattle to be herded for profit.

The Chinese workers themselves need the money, and many of them don’t have houses per se; they have these makeshift living quarters that are designed especially for the factory. I’ve seen documentaries on T.V. and the living quarters almost look like prison cells. I only hope that someday things will get better for those poor workers.

By Mammmood — On May 27, 2011

One of the most memorable books that I’ve ever read about the mass production of food was not an economics book, but Upton Sinclair’s book The Jungle. It was about the mass production that was taking place in the 1920s, and there were a lot of descriptions in the book about how Sinclair viewed the whole assembly line thing that was happening.

He talked about food tumbling off the assembly line, and meat being shoved into carts and the smell and stench of the whole assembly line process in meat packing.

It was not a pretty picture, although I don’t think it was a complete indictment of mass production. He was just describing something that was very transformative and new, and how business was trying to come to grips with it.

By anon91690 — On Jun 23, 2010

What are the advantages of mass production?

By anon77570 — On Apr 14, 2010

what are three elements of mass production?

By anon70194 — On Mar 12, 2010

What different hygiene techniques would need to be used between this and Batch production. thanks.

By anon66028 — On Feb 17, 2010

What are the effects of mass production?

By anon32152 — On May 17, 2009

When did mass production actually start?

By pichupichu — On Mar 18, 2009

Define Mass Production and Draw a Distinction between Process and Unit Mass production.

By asmsavi — On Mar 08, 2008

Examine the elements of Mass Production.

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