ASME-Landmark:A .O. Smith Automatic Frame Plant


Built in 1920, the A.O. Smith Corporation's automated automobile frame factory—which took 6 years of labor and $8,000,000 to build—began production May 23, 1921, and operated until June 24, 1958. Known as the " Mechanical Marvel," it achieved a manufacturing output of better than one frame every six seconds, or 10,000 frames a day.

From raw stock to finished frame, the process was automated with split-second timing as the pieces moved from storage to manufacturing, along a 350-foot side bar press line or similar conveyor, traveling back to storage where it passed through a washing machine, then a painting machine. Then each frame was hung on an endless chain for lacquering, baking, and cooling. It took 40 minutes to assemble more than 125 parts (many of which were produced within the plant) and an hour and twenty minutes to clean and paint a frame. Frames were produced for Chevrolet, Chrysler, Buick, and many other U.S. automobiles.

Production on the original line continued until automobile companies began to change the make and model of their cars every year—changes that were too costly and time consuming for A.O. Smith's one-design assembly line. This original line was also designed for riveting assembly operations, and by 1958, riveting had to give way to welding.

As a mechanized orchestration of over five hundred operations, the "Mechanical Marvel" was considered a wonder of its time and a prototype of the factory of the future. See ASME website for more information