The evolution of assembly lines to full automation

In the early twentieth century, assembly lines were fairly primitive with workers being restricted to carrying out a single, often very repetitive task. Most assembly line workers had no special skills as such, and factory operators didn’t require them to know more than what their basic job entailed.

As such, this human element eventually proved to be the weakest link in the assembly line system. That’s because when workers endure so much mental and physical drudgery, the sheer boredom makes them less productive. Indeed, such work can also sometimes even be detrimental to a person’s mental and physical well-being.

This phenomenon was discovered by assembly line creator Henry Ford of the Ford Motor company and other early industrialists, who tried to speed up the pace of production at their facilities. Because some machines were employed on assembly lines, some supervisors thought that by speeding these machines up, their workers would be forced to keep up. However, this pressure to keep up, combined with the boredom and drudgery of the job, led to a noticeable drop in the quality of the products manufactured on the assembly line. There were also problems with worker dissatisfaction, and this in turn would often result in even less productivity, even though the whole idea behind speeding things up was to increase productivity.

Therefore, after the culmination of World War II, industrialists began to make an effort to combat this boredom and drudgery by removing the human element from the assembly line wherever possible.

Automation was the name of the game, and it brought innumerable benefits to manufacturing such as a guarantee of accuracy and quality that’s beyond normal human’s skills. With the advances in computer and robot technology in the last few decades, the nature of the assembly line has changed beyond all measure. Some assembly lines are run entirely by computer programs that control all manner of robots designed to assemble and package products on the assembly line. Increasingly, so-called “smart robots” are now capable of monitoring their own performance and adjusting their own settings depending on the situation, further removing the human element. In industries like the automobile sector, assembly lines consist of machines that are monitored by other machines, with very few humans.

There are still some humans of course, but these days their tasks are restricted to quality control, routine inspections and maintenance of the machines. The end result is that assembly lines no longer require unskilled human labor, but highly skilled workers who can operate and maintain what is becoming increasingly sophisticated, computerized equipment.


ITO Group specialize in palletizing solutions for the food industry. They have more than 55 years of knowledge, with both high and low speed machines.