Essay on the Difference Between the Fordist and Flexible Systems of Production

Published: 2021/11/09
Number of words: 1715

Fordist mode of production refers to the concept of creation in bulk and the consumption rate of first world economies that existed between the 1940s and 1960s. Fordism perpetuated an equilibrium that equated bulk consumption rate with bulk production rate to provide growth in the economy sustainably. The years between the 1970s and 1990s have been characterized by stagnant economic growth and inequalities in income distribution. The period between these years has resulted in an evolution of production and consumption organization. On maturity, this transformation promises to deliver a surge in the growth of the economy. The flexible production system is the name given to the new system of production. Production-wise, the flexible production system is distinctively less expensive through the cutting of costs of information and overheads, control of inventory of just-in-time, management of total quality, and lack of supervision in working groups. Consumption-wise, it is characterized by lifecycles that are faster for the product, market globalization of consumer goods, differentiation, and segmentation of merchandise that is much greater (Amin, 2011, p. 45).

The father and pioneer of the Fordism system of production were Henry Ford. He was a symbol of change from an agricultural-reliant economy to a more industrial one, characterized by mass consumption and mass production. The preeminence growth of industries that deal with automobiles, leading manufacturing activity globally, is the brain-child of Ford. (De Giorgi, 2010, p. 148) explain that the automobile industry had transformed their fundamental ideas twice in the 20th century. They further observed that how they made things dictated their work, their purchases, the way they thought, and their way of life.

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Craft to mass production was the number one of these transformations. This aided market creation of the market as we currently know it, founded on scope and economies of scale. The first transformation also helped mushroom large organizations that were characterized by division of labor that was minute and some level of specialization. To produce economies of scale, expenses that were fixed were spread, especially through equipment and plant investments and production lines organizations, over the output of large quantities; thus, unit costs are abridged. Production of economies of scope was through the division of labor exploitations. The exploitation was done through combining functional units that were specialized sequentially, particularly costs such as personnel, accounting, reporting, or purchasing, in diverse ways, making it inexpensive to produce numerous products than a singular specialized one. Additionally, it was a danger to various institutions, governance structures, and policies aimed at combating shortcomings of the market and amend conventional industrial practices and arrangements.

Key influences of Ford in bulk production and consumption were principally in the domains of process engineering. The cornerstone of his concepts lied in standardization. The standardization was via standardized raw materials, manufacturing procedures that were standardized, and an easily manufactured and repaired product that was also standard. The basic requirement of standardization was using parts interchangeability. Developments in gauging methods and machine tools were exploited to achieve this. These advancements enabled continuous assemblage, in that assembler’s task was repetitive and single. Henry Ford also pioneered the reconfiguring of the flow of work via an electric motor. A continuous assembly line was first used in 1914 by Model-T firm owned by Ford, thereby swelling productivity of labor ten times over, and effecting the reduction of prices. Consequently, the term Fordize was coined. The term used to refer to the standardization of products and mass manufacturing to reduce the prices for common folks to afford (Sallaz, 2015, p. 33).

Ultimately, Ford used the raw materials to make all that he needed for his cars. Two explanations inspired the vertical integration by Ford. Firstly, his perfection of production methods that produced in bulk meant profound economies since he could perform all the procedures alone. Secondly, the supervision of a direct nature could control raw materials flow efficiently through the process of production relationships of arms-length. Organizations with many employees and volumes of operations are a pre-requisite of vertical integration. Employees, specialists, and mid-level managers had to be employed, sorted, and assimilated in the hierarchical structure.

Aside from parts being interchangeable, the assemblers were also subject to change over time through shifts in the mass production system by Ford. According to (Beynon, 2015, p. 327), the production in bulk utilized the division of labor to the fullest. A single task was assigned to one assembler, and the assembler was not able to perform the task of the other assemblers besides him. Housekeepers did periodic cleaning of areas of work. Supervisory inspectors ascertained quality, checked defective work, and, subsequently, if learned, was corrected in different rework areas. Assemblers were the lowest ranking employees in the factory plants. Some managers cited the lack of automation as the reason for the need for assembly workers (Ali and Wadhwa, 2010, p. 5705).

Being an assembly worker is demanding physically, mentally draining, and thoroughly boring under the mass production system. Consequently, in 1913, Ford had to endure an increased labor turnover of 380 percent. In modern days, it is also common for absenteeism to become glaring in bulk production plants. This necessitates the need for these plants to have an extra set of workers who cover for the absent ones during shifts. Ford addressed the high labor turnover by increasing the wages of workers to five dollars per day. Other employers had to conform to these changes by Ford. Despite the ways used, the assemblers who were unskilled realized substantial benefits owing to a spike in the productivity of industries. Subsequently, the ability to reap and sustain substantial wages was a function of political powers. This is due to the growth of unions that represented the workers. In well-established economies, the swelling of mass production made them the single prime entity. There were critics of Ford’s system despite its numerous gains. Taylor Frederick had an issue with the assemblers. He likened them to gorillas that were trained.

On the other end, the flexible system argues that to be competitive means that plants need to treat workers more like humans and less like machines. The system further presumes that only the assembly worker is valuable in the process of manufacturing and that assemblers are better at their work than specialists. Furthermore, it operates on the principle of production of high quality products. Similar to Fordism, the transformation supersedes the realms of engineering. It influences the way we make things, our way of life, and our consumption. It mirrors the waning relevance of scope and scale, and it is caused by a decrease in logistics, communication, and costs for processing information. These are spurred by the invention of computers and the acquisition of the necessary skill set to use them (Ali and Wadhwa, 2010, p. 5695).

Presently, Organizations that acquire workstations for computers and complementary software hold a significant competitive edge over their rivals as well as have better overhead systems. Previously, only large organizations could boast of such systems. Additionally, product designs and processes in manufacturing that are computerized enable customized goods at customer-friendly prices. Consequently, bigger organizations are aping their smaller counterparts by reducing the size of their head offices, bureaucracy removal, and focusing on key business. These companies are characterized by schedules that are tight and have higher quality surpassing Ford in its good days. However, they have not consolidated into a bureaucracy that is large and single. The Nike brand is a good example of this. The company does not formulate or distribute anything. They solely market merchandise, including their design and developments. All the other stages of production are out-sourced. Another good example is Toyota. It makes a tenth of General Motors (GM) products when taking into account intermediary and final goods. As a result of low economies of scale, the size of the firm has dwindled in the past two decades.

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Newer versions of the internal organization have cropped up as a result of information technology. These modes emphasize teams from different disciplines, whose affiliates work closely together from the start to the end of a task. This because modern systems of information have the capability of dismantling the hierarchical systems in organizations. (Sallaz, 2015, p. 30) explains that workplaces nowadays demand equity in knowledge, responsibility, and authority. Virtual networks are the premise of organizations that deal with a single product, while organizations that deal with multiple products have many networks. The IBM system in Texas plant is an example of a network that is virtual. The organization members in IBM play the role of providers and customers at the same time, with the transaction as a function. An example of an organization that has a myriad of networks and deals with multiple products is Johnson & Johnson (Thompson, 2003, p. 36).

The change bulk to flexible production has brought about transformations to countries and their institutions in proportions comparable craft to mass production. It has considerably changed the political scene in the social order. The flexible system of production occasioned a drastic reduction in the demand for labor that was unskilled. The system highly demands numerous workers who are literate and are capable of working with no or limited supervision. Consequently, unskilled labor supply has fallen in first-world economies over the last three decades. Waning as well is the political influence of unions of unskilled labor as the unions sway dissipated. Also, the wages of the unskilled workers have not been spared either, and they have also considerably reduced. As a consequence, the workers elected either employment full –time or security of their jobs (Ali and Wadhwa, 2010, p. 5691).


Ali, M., and Wadhwa, S., 2010. The effect of routing flexibility on a flexible system of integrated manufacturing. International journal of production research48(19), pp.5691-5709.

Amin, A. ed., 2011. Post-Fordism: a reader. John Wiley & Sons.

Beynon, H., 2015. Beyond Fordism. The Sage Handbook of the Sociology of Work and Employment. London: Sage, pp.306-328.

De Giorgi, A., 2010. Immigration control, post-Fordism, and less eligibility: A materialist critique of the criminalization of immigration across Europe. Punishment & Society12(2), pp.147-167.

Sallaz, J.J., 2015. Permanent pedagogy: How post-Fordist firms generate effort but not consent. Work and Occupations42(1), pp.3-34.

Thompson, F., 2003. Fordism, post-Fordism, and the flexible system of production. Center for Digital Discourse and Culture.

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