When my sister and brother-in-law came to visit recently, we spent one whole day at the Ford Rouge F-150 plant and Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Dearborn, Mich. The factory, museum and neighboring Greenfield Village are popular destinations and it was crowded!
The buzz word there was “innovation.” Most of the things we enjoy in modern society were invented because someone wanted to make something better or more convenient to use. Webster’s defines it as introducing a new “method, custom, or device; a change in the way of doing things.”
At the Ford F-150 factory, we followed a guide past a display of beautifully restored cars on the way to the Legacy Theater to see a movie about the history of Henry Ford’s company. Even in walking past the display, it was easy to see amazing changes and improvements over about five decades.
The Model A was one of the first cars produced by Ford in the early 1900’s. However, it was expensive to manufacture, being time and labor intensive. His vision was of a car that could be mass produced and would be affordable to people making a modest salary, such as his own factory workers.
“I will build a car for the great multitude. It will be large enough for the family, but small enough for the individual to run and care for. It will be constructed of the best materials, by the best men to be hired, after the simplest designs that modern engineering can devise.” (Ford & Crowther, 1922 p. 73)
That car turned out to be the Model T, produced on an assembly line where the parts came to the workers instead of the workers to the parts! At the peak of the Model T’s popularity in the 1920’s, over 2 million cars were being made a year, selling at $360 per car! From those days to the present, advancements in mass production have continued. Many of those innovations are being used in the production of the F-150’s at the Rouge Plant today.
The actual operation of the factory was interesting to watch, although very loud! Trained workers were on the floor below us, each assigned a station and a specific job. All of the parts needed for that job, as well as the trucks themselves, came to them on conveyor belts. In certain areas, tall robots installed the rear windows on the cabs; in other areas, employees stood in pits so that they could work underneath the vehicles as they came by. Elevators carried the cabs from one level to another, as they were continually moved through the plant. It was quite impressive!
Some of the tools used in the assembly line were ‘smart tools’ governed by computers in order to achieve the precise measurements required. Wouldn’t Henry Ford be surprised if he could take the same tour, seeing people, robots and computers working together to produce one truck a minute, 24 hours a day? And what would he think of the Ford F-150 compared to his Model T?
How did all of this come about? It took innovative thinking over the decades, coupled with hard work, risk taking, problem solving and a big financial investment too.
Later that afternoon we walked through some of the exhibits in the museum of American Innovation, including Ford’s original car, the “Quadricycle,” as well as race cars, trains, planes, Presidential vehicles, tractors and more. Very fascinating! And we didn’t even get to see it all before closing time!
So what part does innovation play in our lives? Think about Henry Ford’s “unrelenting innovations,” as described by the narrator in the movie and the impact they have had on the world around us. Are we open for change, striving to find newer and better ways of doing things, continually learning no matter what our age? As Christians, are we letting God work and move in ways that will bring us closer to Him, change us to be more like Jesus and use us to build His kingdom?
“‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the Lord. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.’” — Isaiah 55:8-9 NIV
Judy Lowery lives in Michigan. The Good News column appears regularly in The Porterville Recorder. You can read more at Judy’s blog, goodnewswithjudy.blogspot.com.