USA: Ford makes progress on way to flexible factories

By just-auto.com editorial team | 16 June 2005

Ford Motor Company is making record investments in its North American assembly plants, transforming aging factories into lean, flexible and sustainable facilities for the 21st century.

Matt DeMars, Ford's vice president of North American Vehicle Operations, said the transformation began last year with the opening of the new Dearborn Truck Plant and is picking up pace.

"Ford is in the middle of a manufacturing journey," said DeMars, speaking at the 2005 Automotive News Manufacturing Conference.

"We're making record investments in our plants. It started in the spring of 2004 with the grand opening of Dearborn Truck. This plant is the future. It defines sustainable manufacturing and is being studied by industrialists from all over the world."

This year, Michigan Truck Plant (Wayne, Michigan) adds a new flexible body shop, Kansas City Assembly Plant adds production of the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and AutoAlliance International (Flat Rock, Michigan) launched the Ford Mustang convertible.

Hermosillo Stamping and Assembly Plant in Sonora, Mexico; and Oakville Assembly Complex, in Ontario, also are undergoing retooling and renovation for flexible manufacturing. Later this year, Hermosillo will launch the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr.

Last year, Ford launched the Five Hundred, Freestyle and Mercury Montego at Chicago Assembly Plant, which was completely renovated and retooled for flexible manufacturing.

Our oldest operating assembly plant now has the latest technology, DeMars said. In Chicago, we're building vehicles that are beating expectations - right out of the gate. In last month's JD Power survey, the Five Hundred ranked among the top three vehicles in the full-size car segment.

And less than a half-mile away is the Chicago Manufacturing Campus. Twelve suppliers are manufacturing, sequencing and delivering parts and components to the assembly line for those three vehicles.

With the new flexible systems installed in these plants - and more coming - Ford is ready for the future, DeMars said.

Mass production - high-volume with limited product mix - is being replaced by flexible manufacturing systems that respond quickly and efficiently to changing customer demands.

The company that invented the moving assembly line is again at the forefront of what can only be described as the next manufacturing revolution, DeMars said.

"At Ford, before we ever set foot on the plant floor with tooling and installations for a new model program, we're building vehicles in a totally digital environment."

DeMars said Ford is a leader in the virtual build process. "Our product designers and manufacturing engineers work together with our suppliers and plant personnel to assemble an entire vehicle on a computer screen long before the hardware comes out.

"Virtual build produces improved quality and ergonomics while reducing time and cost."

The virtual build process was used in the complete development of the Fusion, Milan and Zephyr.

Ford Motor Company's flexible manufacturing systems have the ability to build up to eight different models off two independent platforms.

"Our new systems standardise the assembly process, improve productivity, eliminate waste and boost quality," DeMars said.

Another benefit from flexible manufacturing is greater stability.

By the end of the decade in North America, 75% of Ford's body shops, paint, trim and final assembly operations will be flexible.

"Over time, we expect to save up to $2 billion dollars because flexible systems cost 10 to 15% less than traditional systems, with an added 50% savings in changeover costs, DeMars said.

The Chicago Manufacturing Campus, which houses 12 major automotive suppliers, provides 60% of inventory with just-in-time deliveries.