Desenvolvimento de produto

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Henry Ford and the Model T: lessons for
product platforming and mass
customization
´
Fabrice Alizon, Keyplatform Company, 91 rue du Faubourg St Honore,
75008 Paris, France
Steven B. Shooter, Mechanical Engineering, Bucknell University, Lewisburg,
PA 17837, USA
Timothy W. Simpson, Industrial & Manufacturing Engineering,
The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USAHenry Ford is recognized as the father of mass production, but his contributions
extend well beyond that, offering valuable lessons for product platforming and
mass customization. In this paper, we study Ford’s Model T and its many
variants in depth and describe insights into Ford’s vision and his car. In
particular, we examine how the platform was built, leveraged and dynamically
maintainedwith continuous improvements to maximize learning and economies
of scale. Finally, we compare Ford’s approach to more current approaches for
platforming and mass customization. October 2008 marked the 100-year
anniversary of the introduction of the Model T. In some aspects this old car still
outperforms us, and we can learn valuable lessons from its past to avoid future
mistakes and improvecurrent practices.
Ó 2009 Published by Elsevier Ltd.
Keywords: design practice, automotive design, design history, customization,
product development

M

Corresponding author:
Fabrice Alizon
fabrice.alizon@gmail.
com

any of today’s industries target platform-based products tailored
to customers’ needs through derivative products. This approach
enables companies to increase their marketshare and reduce their
development and manufacturing costs (Meyer and Lehnerd, 1997; Robertson
and Ulrich, 1998). Even if platform-based product development is better understood and managed today, it is still far from being mastered by industry
and academia (Alizon et al., 2007). Thus, the goal in this study is to examine
one of the most successful products in automotive history, namely, theFord
Model T. We assert that the Model T was one of the first platform-based products ever produced in quantity and one of the most efficiently designed. Despite the famous maxim attributed to Henry Ford: ‘You can have any color
car so long as it’s black’, Ford’s contributions extend far beyond being the pioneer of mass production processes. Ford adapted techniques from the U.S.
weapon and meatpacking industries to the automotive industry and improved
www.elsevier.com/locate/destud
0142-694X $ - see front matter Design Studies 30 (2009) 588e605
doi:10.1016/j.destud.2009.03.003
Ó 2009 Published by Elsevier Ltd.

588

it to its limits by rigorous principles (Hounshell, 1984). Each Model T model
was built on the same platform, with a deep level of customization: the body
wasspecific to each model. Nowadays, only the ‘Skateboard’ concept and the
Sequel prototype by GM (Eberle, 2006) target the same level of customization.
Furthermore, this platform was improved over time along with the models.
For all these reasons we suggest that the Model T platform was and is still a reference in terms of platform-based design, permitting Henry Ford to tailor derivative products formultiple market segments, and to even mass customize
this product based on an original approach.
Managing variety is not a new phenomenon and goes back to the beginning of
the industrial revolution and even predates it (Arndt and Kierzkowski, 2001);
therefore, there has always been room for fragmented markets to emerge.
Hence, at the beginning of the automotive industry, mass production was
theright choice (with an average of 5 models per year over 19 years) (Hounshell, 1984). Ford also engendered principles for mass customization by developing a core platform with a high level of production while outsourcing
tailored products to specialized companies.
The first aim in this study is historical, highlighting Henry Ford’s work in
terms of product platforming and mass customization;...
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