27 January 2009

Assembly line

The invention: Amanufacturing technique pioneered in the automobile industry by Henry Ford that lowered production costs and helped bring automobile ownership within the reach of millions of Americans in the early twentieth century. The people behind the invention: Henry Ford (1863-1947), an American carmaker Eli Whitney (1765-1825), an American inventor Elisha King Root (1808-1865), the developer of division of labor Oliver Evans (1755-1819), the inventor of power conveyors Frederick Winslow Taylor (1856-1915), an efficiency engineer A Practical Man Henry Ford built his first “horseless carriage” by hand in his home workshop in 1896. In 1903, the Ford Motor Company was born. Ford’s first product, the Model A, sold for less than one thousand dollars, while other cars at that time were priced at five to ten thousand dollars each. When Ford and his partners tried, in 1905, to sell a more expensive car, sales dropped. Then, in 1907, Ford decided that the Ford Motor Company would build “a motor car for the great multitude.” It would be called the Model T. The Model T came out in 1908 and was everything that Henry Ford said it would be. Ford’s Model T was a low-priced (about $850), practical car that came in one color only: black. In the twenty years during which the Model T was built, the basic design never changed. Yet the price of the Model T, or “Tin Lizzie,” as it was affectionately called, dropped over the years to less than half that of the original Model T. As the price dropped, sales increased, and the Ford Motor Company quickly became the world’s largest automobile manufacturer. The last of more than 15 million Model T’s was made in 1927. Although it looked and drove almost exactly like the first Model T, these two automobiles were built in an entirely different way. The first was custom-built, while the last came off an assembly line. At first, Ford had built his cars in the same way everyone else did: one at a time. Skilled mechanics would work on a car from start to finish, while helpers and runners brought parts to these highly paid craftsmen as they were needed. After finishing one car, the mechanics and their helpers would begin the next. The Quest for Efficiency Custom-built products are good when there is little demand and buyers are willing to pay the high labor costs. This was not the case with the automobile. Ford realized that in order to make a large number of quality cars at a low price, he had to find a more efficient way to build cars. To do this, he looked to the past and the work of others. He found four ideas: interchangeable parts, continuous flow, division of labor, and elimination of wasted motion. Eli Whitney, the inventor of the cotton gin, was the first person to use interchangeable parts successfully in mass production. In 1798, the United States government asked Whitney to make several thousand muskets in two years. Instead of finding and hiring gunsmiths to make the muskets by hand, Whitney used most of his time and money to design and build special machines that could make large numbers of identical parts—one machine for each part that was needed to build a musket. These tools, and others Whitney made for holding, measuring, and positioning the parts, made it easy for semiskilled, and even unskilled, workers to build a large number of muskets. Production can be made more efficient by carefully arranging the different stages of production to create a “continuous flow.” Ford borrowed this idea from at least two places: the meat-packing houses of Chicago and an automatic grain mill run by Oliver Evans. Ford’s idea for a moving assembly line came from Chicago’s great meat-packing houses in the late 1860’s. Here, the bodies of animals were moved along an overhead rail past a number of workers, each ofwhommade a certain cut, or handled one part of the packing job. This meant that many animals could be butchered and packaged in a single day. Ford looked to Oliver Evans for an automatic conveyor system. In 1783, Evans had designed and operated an automatic grain mill that could be run by only two workers. As one worker poured grain into a funnel-shaped container, called a “hopper,” at one end of the mill, a second worker filled sacks with flour at the other end. Everything in between was done automatically, as Evans’s conveyors passed the grain through the different steps of the milling process without any help. The idea of “division of labor” is simple: When one complicated job is divided into several easier jobs, some things can be made faster, with fewer mistakes, by workers who need fewer skills than ever before. Elisha King Root had used this principle to make the famous Colt “Six-Shooter.” In 1849, Root went to work for Samuel Colt at his Connecticut factory and proved to be a manufacturing genius. By dividing the work into very simple steps, with each step performed by one worker, Root was able to make many more guns in much less time. Before Ford applied Root’s idea to the making of engines, it took one worker one day to make one engine. By breaking down the complicated job of making an automobile engine into eighty-four simpler jobs, Ford was able to make the process much more efficient. By assigning one person to each job, Ford’s company was able to make 352 engines per day—an increase of more than 400 percent. Frederick Winslow Taylor has been called the “original efficiency expert.” His idea was that inefficiency was caused by wasted time and wasted motion. So Taylor studied ways to eliminate wasted motion. He proved that, in the long run, doing a job too quickly was as bad as doing it too slowly. “Correct speed is the speed at which men can work hour after hour, day after day, year in and year out, and remain continuously in good health,” he said. Taylor also studied ways to streamline workers’ movements. In this way, he was able to keep wasted motion to a minimum. Impact The changeover from custom production to mass production was an evolution rather than a revolution. Henry Ford applied the four basic ideas of mass production slowly and with care, testing each new idea before it was used. In 1913, the first moving assembly line for automobiles was being used to make Model T’s. Ford was able to make his Tin Lizzies faster than ever, and his competitors soon followed his lead. He had succeeded in making it possible for millions of people to buy automobiles. Ford’s work gave a new push to the Industrial Revolution. It showed Americans that mass production could be used to improve quality, cut the cost of making an automobile, and improve profits. In fact, the Model T was so profitable that in 1914 Ford was able to double the minimum daily wage of his workers, so that they too could afford to buy Tin Lizzies. Although Americans account for only about 6 percent of the world’s population, they now own about 50 percent of its wealth. There are more than twice as many radios in the United States as there are people. The roads are crowded with more than 180 million automobiles. Homes are filled with the sounds and sights emitting from more than 150 million television sets. Never have the people of one nation owned so much. Where did all the products—radios, cars, television sets—come from? The answer is industry, which still depends on the methods developed by Henry Ford.

25 January 2009

Aspartame

The invention An artificial sweetener with a comparatively natural taste widely used in carbonated beverages. The people behind the invention Arthur H. Hayes, Jr. (1933- ), a physician and commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) James M. Schlatter (1942- ), an American chemist Michael Sveda (1912- ), an American chemist and inventor Ludwig Frederick Audrieth (1901- ), an American chemist and educator Ira Remsen (1846-1927), an American chemist and educator Constantin Fahlberg (1850-1910), a German chemist. Sweetness Without Calories People have sweetened food and beverages since before recorded history. The most widely used sweetener is sugar, or sucrose. The only real drawback to the use of sucrose is that it is a nutritive sweetener: In addition to adding a sweet taste, it adds calories. Because sucrose is readily absorbed by the body, an excessive amount can be life-threatening to diabetics. This fact alone would make the development of nonsucrose sweeteners attractive. There are three common nonsucrose sweeteners in use around the world: saccharin, cyclamates, and aspartame. Saccharin was the first of this group to be discovered, in 1879. Constantin Fahlberg synthesized saccharin based on the previous experimental work of Ira Remsen using toluene (derived from petroleum). This product was found to be three hundred to five hundred times as sweet as sugar, although some people could detect a bitter aftertaste. In 1944, the chemical family of cyclamates was discovered by Ludwig Frederick Audrieth and Michael Sveda. Although these compounds are only thirty to eighty times as sweet as sugar, there was no detectable aftertaste. By the mid-1960’s, cyclamates had resplaced saccharin as the leading nonnutritive sweetener in theUnited States. Although cyclamates are still in use throughout the world, in October, 1969, FDA removed them from the list of approved food additives because of tests that indicated possible health hazards. A Political Additive Aspartame is the latest in artificial sweeteners that are derived from natural ingredients—in this case, two amino acids, one from milk and one from bananas. Discovered by accident in 1965 by American chemist James M. Schlatter when he licked his fingers during an experiment, aspartame is 180 times as sweet as sugar. In 1974, the FDAapproved its use in dry foods such as gum and cerealand as a sugar replacement. Shortly after its approval for this limited application, the FDA held public hearings on the safety concerns raised by JohnW. Olney, a professor of neuropathology at Washington University in St. Louis. There was some indication that aspartame, when combined with the common food additive monosodium glutamate, caused brain damage in children. These fears were confirmed, but the risk of brain damage was limited to a small percentage of individuals with a rare genetic disorder. At this point, the public debate took a political turn: Senator William Proxmire charged FDA Commissioner AlexanderM. Schmidt with public misconduct. This controversy resulted in aspartame being taken off the market in 1975. In 1981, the new FDA commissioner, Arthur H. Hayes, Jr., resapproved aspartame for use in the same applications: as a tabletop sweetener, as a cold-cereal additive, in chewing gum, and for other miscellaneous uses. In 1983, the FDAapproved aspartame for use in carbonated beverages, its largest application to date. Later safety studies revealed that children with a rare metabolic disease, phenylketonuria,could not ingest this sweetener without severe health risks because of the presence of phenylalanine in aspartame. This condition results in a rapid buildup in phenylalanine in the blood. Laboratories simulated this condition in rats and found that high doses of aspartame inhibited the synthesis of dopamine, a neurotransmitter. Once this happens, an increase in the frequency of seizures can occur. There was no direct evidence, however, that aspartame actually caused seizures in these experiments. Many other compounds are being tested for use as sugar replacements, the sweetest being a relative of aspartame. This compound is seventeen thousand to fifty-two thousand times sweeter than sugar. Impact The business fallout from the approval of a new low-calorie sweetener occurred over a short span of time. In 1981, sales of thisartificial sweetener by G. D. Searle and Company were $74 million. In 1983, sales rose to $336 million and exceeded half a billion dollars the following year. These figures represent sales of more than 2,500tons of this product. In 1985, 3,500 tons of aspartame were consumed. Clearly, this product’s introduction was a commercial success for Searle. During this same period, the percentage of reduced calorie carbonated beverages containing saccharin declined from100 percent to 20 percent in an industry that had $4 billion in sales. Universally, consumers preferred products containing aspartame; the bitter aftertaste of saccharin was rejected in favor of the new, less powerful sweetener. There is a trade-off in using these products. The FDA found evidence linking both saccharin and cyclamates to an elevated incidence of cancer. Cyclamates were banned in the United States for this reason. Public resistance to this measure caused the agency to back away from its position. The rationale was that, compared toother health risks associated with the consumption of sugar (especially for diabetics and overweight persons), the chance of getting cancer was slight and therefore a risk that many people wouldchoose to ignore. The total domination of aspartame in the sweetener market seems to support this assumption.