The following is from a 1956 Motor Trend Magazine.
Interesting how a Plymouth was built then. I don’t believe that it has changed that much—it is just that computers are much faster now.
By Jim Lodge
MAYBE IT ISN'T RIGHT, but it seems that sometime, somewhere, everybody has an inner desire to see something go wrong--like waiting to see if a professional figure skater will ever slip and fall, or watching for a car to go broadside in a 30-field jallopy race.
IT HAPPENED TO US while we watched new cars being assembled on a Plymouth assembly line. But we waited in vain. Why didn't we see a blue car with green wheels? Or taxicab upholstery in a Belvedere hardtop? Or a 6-cylinder engine in a car ordered with a power-pack V8? When we asked these questions, we came up with answers that made us take a closer look at that car at the end of the line and wonder how it ever got there!
YOU'RE THE CUSTOMER, sitting at a desk in the showroom, specifying in this case a 2-door Belvedere hardtop, 2-tone black and white finish, black-and-white interior, with PowerFlite, power brakes, power steering, Powerpack V8, radio, heater, standard horn ring, tinted glass. Unless a dealer has a car in stock exactly as you want it, it has to be built to your order. But you'd never recognize the dealer's order as yours, for it's completely coded. (Color, for example, might be written 661; 601 being black, and 6 indicating the trim color. Power steering would appear as 351, Power-Flite as 353. )
YOUR ORDER ARRIVES AT PLYMOUTH'S PLANT, is scrutinized in the distribution department for bookkeeping purposes and for any obvious errors or deletions in the order. Then it goes to the tabulating department, and the heart of Plymouth's order-filling, car-building setup--the IBM 650 Magnetic Drum Data Processing Machine. It carries its intelligence on a memory drum revolving at 12,500 rpm, and magnetic "spots" on the drum are translated into 20,000 digits that handle the codes on your order card like they were 4th grade arithmetic problems. Each minute the machine is capable of 78,000 additions and subtractions, 5000 multiplications, 3700 divisions, and in another 60 seconds, it can make 138,000 logical decisions from the information fed to it.
IF THIS IS AUTOMATION. then let's face it--who could do the job better? Suppose you decided you wanted to know something about the material being handled within the 650. All you do is let the machine know what you want, and it'll start a search to find out where the information is, find it, and make it available to you. The whole search process takes 0.72 milliseconds.
ITS REAL VALUE lies in being able to compute complex problems. For instance: The IBM 650, told what goes into a single car, multiplies this by the type and number of cars scheduled, and comes up with the total number of separate parts needed to produce hundreds of cars; this information dictates orders to suppliers. The process doesn't take much time either, especially when you consider the machine's output speed--100 coded cards, or 8000 digits, per minute. Now let's see what happens to your order.
FROM THE CODED ORIGINAL, a single IBM card is punched, listing not only the order number and everything about your car, but the dealer's code number, his region, your selected method of financing, the way your car is to be shipped to your area, and up to 73 other facts. What if there had been an error in coding, and your order specified a tan convertible top for your black-and-white hardtop? The statistical sorting machine would reject the card, as it would if you'd ordered a certain upholstery that isn't available in your choice of body style. That data card looks like it had been done in by a 12-gauge Browning--but every punched hole means something. How many hours does it take to check your card and the 3500 others going thru the same production run? At one time, it took 2 to 3 hours. Now, the day's orders are checked in 10 or 15 minutes- electronically. W. J. (Bill) Bird, Plymouth's vice president in charge of sales, and the man largely responsible for this setup, can remember when his staff had to look thru and reject stacks of punched cards by hand!
THE "BRAIN," while sorting, rejecting, entering, "remembering," noting billing processes to dealers, etc., has also noted, automatically, body type and color, other pertinent information for the body builders. Thus, when the assembly day is fixed (order-to-pro-duction time has been cut to 5 days from 14 days), the date your car is to be built is punched and the word goes out to all concerned.
THE BODY PLANT IS TOLD that they'll need (among hundreds of other orders) so many taxis with special seats and provision for roof lights, and any other special-order jobs like the new Fury that is being built in Plymouth's Evansville plant, and all the body data that applies to your particular order.
THE ENGINE PLANT is told exactly what's to be in the Plymouth main assembly line at the start of your car's "run" on the date scheduled. And the entire staggering order is sent to the plant control tower for the big day.
D-DAY. H-HOUR. Accounting Department has been notified that the car is being built. A notice goes to the traffic department, to tell them where your car is headed, how it's to get there. And we’re still wondering how your black-and-white Belvedere is going to avoid the red and green fenders and wheels circling overhead. "Fire control," or the assembly line control tower, takes care of this problem. Using fascinating TelAutograph Telescriber machines, the control tower “broadcasts” the items listed on the "track sheet," a master sheet with order data on all the cars starting thru this run. This tells the assembly line what car gets a radio or white-sidewall tires. The 37 machines transmit hand-written messages instantaneously to receivers a few feet away or miles apart, claim many advantages over verbal instruction systems. Messages are received only at those stations selected, whether anyone is in attendance or not; written messages are not likely to be misunderstood, responsibility is fixed by identified sender - and the transcribed data is a matter of perrmanent record.
THE WHEEL STATION, for instance, receives an “Electronic Longhand” message specifying the wheels and tires to be placed on the conveyor for each pre-identified car: engine-mounting station gets a report which lets them double-check their continuity on the converging lines. Because this run was scheduled days ago, specifics (bodies, chassis, drive trains and engines) were started on the timed conveyor racks at the time: thus the entire day's production of some 3500-or-more cars is synchronized. Constant back-checking, double checking and final checking all but eliminates mechanical or human error. A breakdown, of course, stops all the lines at once: there's no piling-up, no elusive red-car-with-green-fenders.
WHO WON THE 5th AT PIMLICO is about the only information not contained in the all-important track sheet, basis of all tickets on the car. Code figures have been sent to the end of the production line to check "cars received" against the track sheet's "cars ordered," a final assurance that the car is assembled according to your order. After checking the tickets, any minor adjustments are made on a repair line, and the car is ready for shipment to the distributor and subsequent delivery to you.
DAILY INVENTORY is a staggering prospect in any business--but here, this monstrous chore is a simple by-product of assembly. As an electronic wizard checks off cars finished, it can not only make up a bill, but can also tell its operators in just a few minutes what stage any single car in a day's production is going thru at that time!
YOU HAVEN'T GOT YOUR CAR YET, but it won't be long. A message to the transportation section said that 4 of today's cars go to the same area in the country. But the cars Were literally miles apart in assembly. At the parking lot, a driver notes from the windshield stickers that a car is scheduled to go by rail, takes it to that section of the lot. Until all 4 cars are ready (each was on a different shipping order, from different dealers in that area), the rail car load waits.
BEHIND THIS OVERWHELMING PRODUCTION is a key time-saving process: Predictions of how many cars can be built in the forthcoming month. This is a Plymouth sales department function which tells production personnel to prepare to turn out a certain number of units.
HOW DOES IT WORK OUT? "Fairly close," says Clyde Light, assistant to Bill Bird. When it isn't so close, the estimate for the next period is adjusted. One month, for instance, management's calculations (it's more than just a guess) were high on club sedans, too low on 4-door sedans; this was corrected in next month's production, balanced out well. Electronic brains have helped cut some phases of planning time to 30 days from what was normally a 3-month proposition.
YOU KNOW WHAT ELECTRONICS MEANS to you; a car delivered in the time it would have taken back in 1946--a time when hurry-up orders were the vogue; it means ready availability of a car suited to your every whim and fancy in color and option. To the manufacturer, it means being able to cater to the greatest number of prospective new-car buyers in our history. Every U.S. carmaker is faced with the order-produce-and-deliver- game, and many of the production processes described here are common rules to all automotive contestants. Getting cars built and delivered is nearly as competitive as selling them. That’s why Plymouth, 1st in the industry to use the IBM 650 machine in this capacity, is proud of its programming system developed over a 9-year period.
SUMMING UP THE SYSTEM, Plymouth "sales engineers" tell us that without the electronic brains integrated with the human element of production, "We just couldn't produce the number of cars we do." Production figures are often cold and meaningless. But look at it this way: As you read this, about 30 "custom-built" cars rolled off Plymouth's assembly line, ready for delivery. Jim Lodge – April 1956 Motor Trend Magazine.
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