Assembly lines are designed for the sequential organization of workers, tools or machines, and parts. The motion of workers is minimized to the extent possible. All parts or assemblies are handled either by conveyors or motorized vehicles such as forklifts, or gravity, with no manual trucking. Heavy lifting is done by machines such as overhead cranes or forklifts. Each worker typically performs one simple operation unless job rotation strategies are applied.
According to Henry Ford:
The principles of assembly are these:
(1) Place the tools and the men in the sequence of the operation so that each component part shall travel the least possible distance while in the process of finishing.
(2) Use work slides or some other form of the carrier so that when a workman completes his operation, he drops the part always in the same place—which place must always be the most convenient place to his hand—and if possible have gravity carry the part to the next workman for his own.
(3) Use sliding assembling lines by which the parts to be assembled are delivered at convenient distances.
Designing assembly lines is a well-established mathematical challenge, referred to as an assembly line balancing problem. In the simple assembly line balancing problem the aim is to assign a set of tasks that need to be performed on the workpiece to a sequence of workstations. Each task requires a given task duration for completion. The assignment of tasks to stations is typically limited by two constraints: (1) a precedence graph which indicates what other tasks need to be completed before a particular task can be initiated (e.g. not putting in a screw before drilling the hole) and (2) a cycle time which restricts the sum of task processing times which can be completed at each workstation before the work-piece is moved to the next station by the conveyor belt. Major planning problems for operating assembly lines include supply chain integration, inventory control and production scheduling.