Mass production involves making many copies of products, very quickly, using assembly line techniques to send partially complete products to workers who each work on an individual step, rather than having a worker work on a whole product from start to finish.
Mass production of fluid matter typically involves pipes with
centrifugal pumps or
screw conveyors (augers) to transfer raw materials or partially complete products between vessels. Fluid flow processes such as oil refining and bulk materials such as wood chips and pulp are automated using a system of
process control which uses various instruments to measure variables such as temperature, pressure, volumetric and level, providing feedback
Bulk materials such as coal, ores, grains and wood chips are handled by belt, chain, slat, pneumatic or
bucket elevators and mobile equipment such as front-end
loaders. Materials on pallets are handled with forklifts. Also used for handling heavy items like reels of paper, steel or machinery are electric
overhead cranes, sometimes called bridge cranes because they span large factory bays.
Mass production is
capital intensive and energy intensive, as it uses a high proportion of machinery and energy in relation to workers. It is also usually
automated while total expenditure per unit of product is decreased. However, the machinery that is needed to set up a mass production line (such as
machine presses) is so expensive that there must be some assurance that the product is to be successful to attain profits.
One of the descriptions of mass production is that "the skill is built into the tool"workbench itself" (not the training of the worker). Rather than having a skilled worker measure every dimension of each part of the product against the plans or the other parts as it is being formed, there were
jigs ready at hand to ensure that the part was made to fit this set-up. It had already been checked that the finished part would be to specifications to fit all the other finished parts—and it would be made more quickly, with no time spent on finishing the parts to fit one another. Later, once computerized control came about (for example,
CNC), jigs were obviated, but it remained true that the skill (or knowledge) was built into the tool (or process, or documentation) rather than residing in the worker's head. This is the specialized capital required for mass production; each workbench and set of tools (or each CNC cell, or each
fractionating column) is different (fine-tuned to its task).
, which means that the worker using the tool may not need the skill. For example, in the 19th or early 20th century, this could be expressed as "the craftsmanship is in the