The term mass production was popularized by a 1926 article in the Encyclopædia Britannica supplement that was written based on correspondence with Ford Motor Company. The New York Times used the term in the title of an article that appeared before publication of the Britannica article.
The concepts of mass production are applied to various kinds of products, from fluids and particulates handled in bulk (such as food, fuel, chemicals, and mined minerals) to discrete solid parts (such as fasteners) to assemblies of such parts (such as household appliances and automobiles).
Mass production is a diverse field, but it can generally be contrasted with craft production or distributed manufacturing. Some mass production techniques, such as standardized sizes and production lines, predate the Industrial Revolution by many centuries; however, it was not until the introduction of machine tools and techniques to produce interchangeable parts were developed in the mid 19th century that modern mass production was possible.
Mass production involves making many copies of products, very quickly, using assembly line techniques to send partially complete products to workers who each work on an individual step, rather than having a worker work on a whole product from start to finish.
Mass production of fluid matter typically involves pipes with centrifugal pumps or screw conveyors (augers) to transfer raw materials or partially complete products between vessels. Fluid flow processes such as oil refining and bulk materials such as wood chips and pulp are automated using a system of process control which uses various instruments to measure variables such as temperature, pressure, volumetric and level, providing feedback
Bulk materials such as coal, ores, grains and wood chips are handled by belt, chain, slat, pneumatic or screw conveyors, bucket elevators and mobile equipment such as front-end loaders. Materials on pallets are handled with forklifts. Also used for handling heavy items like reels of paper, steel or machinery are electric overhead cranes, sometimes called bridge cranes because they span large factory bays.
Mass production is capital intensive and energy intensive, as it uses a high proportion of machinery and energy in relation to workers. It is also usually automated while total expenditure per unit of product is decreased. However, the machinery that is needed to set up a mass production line (such as robots and machine presses) is so expensive that there must be some assurance that the product is to be successful to attain profits.