US aircraft manufacturing shifted into overdrive. Production rates skyrocketed with 1944 seeing 39.3 times as much hardware by weight produced than in 1940. In 1940 the aircraft industry employed approximately 180,000 workers and this number would reach its 2,100,000 peak in late 1943. An eleven-fold gain in employees versus a 39-fold increase in production measured by weight.
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So, why show production in pounds versus in number of aircraft produced? 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.
Industry productivity experts as well as factory managers are always searching for ways to convey the amount of goods produced versus how efficiently those goods were produced. An often target efficiency is direct labor costs. This makes an extremely simple and easily understood measure, but it ignores indirect labor costs, material costs, overhead, depreciation, and other costs. Additionally, utilizing just a single efficiency measure whether output per labor hour or output per machine is that improvements can be made for that one factor, but it does not measure what is happening elsewhere.
In 1941, 55,000 individual work hours were needed to turn out a B-17. By 1944, this had dropped to 19,000 hours. However, this only tells part of the story since a B-17 produced in 1944 was more complex, heavier, and more capable. Production efficiency as measured by number of hours per plane is good story to convey, but it becomes an even better story when it includes that the maximum takeoff weight increased from 65,000 pounds to 72,000 pounds as well as other performance improvements. 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.
An important use of the weight productivity measure is for long-term operating trends within a factory or an industry. Measuring production by weight allowed some degree of comparing one aircraft factory against another. 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. So 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.
US Aircraft Pounds Produced 1940-45 Data
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Abstracted from R. H. Crawford and L. F. Cook, Statistics: Procurement, OCMH, Table PR-16, pp. 78-79. 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 548, 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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