The learning curve at each manufacturer is evident as the man-hours to produce as measured by weight steadily decreases. However, no direct comparisons between manufacturers can be made from the figures shown. Even in the case of the B-24, where two firms produced the same items, differences in expenditures on tooling and previous production experience preclude valid comparisons as to relative efficiency of production.
Table of Contents
So why show direct man-hours per US airframe pound accepted?
There is not one perfect way to tell the production story but the benefit of using weight is that it better shows the production capacity versus total units produced since total units included many smaller crafts such as trainers, reconnaissance, and other puddle jumpers. Direct man-hours measure the actual touch labor in a factory to produce a product. These two measurements taken together can better tell how efficiently labor is utilized across the products timeline.
Production efficiency as measured by number of man-hours per plane is good story to convey, but it becomes an even better story when it includes that the maximum takeoff weight in the case of the B-17 increased over time from 65,000 pounds to 72,000 pounds. Just measuring direct man-hours per aircraft produced would have lost the fact that the aircraft later produced were becoming heavier and more complex due to upgrades.
No one measure tells production managers the complete story but combined with other production performance measures it allows decisions to be made based upon the overall productivity health. These two measures were often combined with the square footage of factory space as another way to determine how efficiently factory space was being utilized.
Long Term Trends
An important use of these productivity measures is for long-term operating trends within a factory or an industry. These production measurements allowed some degree of comparing one aircraft factory against another. Although not exactly apples to apples it allowed informed judgements to be made that a factory needed attention, that their trends were not keeping up with the rest of the industry, or that they are a strong performer. These comparisons can generate discussions leading to exchange of ideas and best practices.
Not only were changes made to aircraft design, but changes occurred within the companies and on the factory floors to meet the war production demands. For example, aircraft manufacturing tooling often became more flexible since they weren’t required to stamp out the vast quantities required by the automobile industry. This type of tooling allowed rolled forming of similar but not identical fuselage or wing skins.
Direct Man-Hours per US Airframe Pound Accepted Data
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|wdt_ID||Month||Ford Willow Run B-24||Consolidated San Diego B-24||Boeing Wichita B-29||Republic Farmingdale P-47|
Source: Abstracted AFF Hist Study 40, pp. 178-79.
Source: Holley, Irving Brinton, Jr. “United States Army In World War II Special Studies Buying Aircraft: Materiel Procurement For The Army Air Forces.” 1964, Page 565, Center of Military History United States Army, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 64-60000, https://history.army.mil/html/books/011/11-2/index.html, Data accessed on July 12, 2022
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