A series of women developing clean and precise tasks along the lines of a chemical industry show us how manual work is relevant to control production. After the covid-19 pandemic, can we imagine a laboratory where people wear no masks?

36. Workers. Bial, pharmaceutical company. 1947-1997. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.


The assembly line was organised as a means of specialisingworkers’ activity, time and gestures: each person has a specific task and the products are assembled along the line. Which creative activity can improve workers’ lives while developing the individual tasks?

37. Workers assembling parts. Electro-Cerâmica Company was dedicated to the manufacture of electrotechnical ceramics. 1947-1997. Teófilo Rego Archive, Casa da Imagem – Manuel Leão Foundation, Vila Nova de Gaia, Portugal.

The assembly line is a mass production process central to production chains and is composed of tools, machines, workers and robots. One of the major changes introduced by the Industrial Revolution was the creation of the assembly line instead of individual worker’s workstations or craftsman´s workshops. Before industrialization, the worker moved around the workshop in order to create and move the semi-finished products. With the Industrial Revolution, objects are created in several elements and in a logic of assembling. Therefore, the work adapted to assembling specific pieces, moved mechanically along a “line” where the worker always occupies the same position. The mechanisation, and in many cases robotisation, of the assembly line allowed labour costs to be reduced and consequently optimised factory profits.

The automobile industry pioneered the use of the assembly line model after the name of a factory owner. Henry Ford, in the early 20th century, revolutionised the production process at Ford Motor Company by specialising tasks and breaking down work into simple workers tasks and gestures leading to increased outputs. The production of the famous Model T is an icon for Fordism and for an assembly line, it uniquely marked Detroit’s landscape for both the influence of its industrial invention, the assembly line, and its industrial products, the car. Assembly lines are nowadays common methods of assembling complex items such as household appliances, electronic goods or automobiles.
The scientific organisation of work allowed the work’s specialisation, the division of tasks (repetitive and small) and thus determining the time devoted by each worker to each task. Charlie Chaplin’s film, Modern Times (1936) allows us to understand the standardisation’s consequences of production processes.