* More plants to be able to support multiple platforms
* Changes shave development costs, create efficiencies
* Ford aims for "surgical" precision on factory lines
By Deepa Seetharaman
DETROIT, Nov 8 Ford Motor Co marked on
Thursday the production launch of its latest plug-in hybrid at a
former SUV factory that now serves as a model for the
second-largest U.S. automaker's global manufacturing strategy.
With production of the C-Max Energi, the Michigan Assembly
Plant is now the only factory in the world to build gas-powered,
hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric cars all on the same
production line, according to the company.
"In the future, globally, we'll have plants that produce
multiple platforms, multiple powertrain choices and multiple
body styles," said Jim Tetreault, head of manufacturing in North
Michigan Assembly is the latest illustration of Ford's
strategy to retool plants and train workers to build a wider
range of models. The move lowers Ford's production costs, while
allowing it to adapt more quickly to changes in consumer demand.
The flexibility at Michigan Assembly, which can build five
body styles on two platforms, is key as Ford offers electric and
hybrid cars whose sales have been unpredictable.
"We didn't want to get trapped in having dedicated lines for
electrified vehicles and dedicating all that capital to a single
line of vehicles," Tetreault said.
Ford announced in May 2009 that it was spending $550 million
to overhaul the 55-year-old plant, which made the Expedition and
Lincoln Navigator full-size SUVs. Now, Ford makes the C-Max
hybrid and plug-in as well as electric and gas-powered versions
of the Ford Focus compact car.
This includes a sport version of the Focus that gets 252
horsepower, which Tetreault calls the "wild Focus."
More than 80 percent of the tooling at Michigan Assembly's
body shop can weld a variety of body styles, while the layout of
the trim area has been revamped so workers have more time to
install complex high-voltage wires or EV batteries.
At the start of 2010, Ford created a matrix chart dubbed
"the plan for every person" that tracked the training needs of
every worker. Some workers went through months of training to
learn how to repair models with different powertrain systems.
Ford also brought the design and production of key
electrified components in house this year. The Van Dyke
Transmission Plant started building hybrid transmissions, while
the Rawsonville Plant assembles battery packs.
These changes shaved 20 percent from development costs and
the costs will likely fall further as the factories become more
efficient. In Rawsonville, for example, workers were able to go
from nine jobs an hour to 19 jobs over the last two weeks.
This boost partly was partly because workers were given two
nail guns, instead of one, to secure the fixtures around the
battery pack cover. Each bolt was a different size and a second
tool cut down on time needed to adjust the gun for his bolt.
"We want to get to surgical presentation almost," Tetreault
said. "A surgeon reaches out and someone slaps an instrument in
his hand. That's what you want the operators doing. You don't
want the operators moving a single step to get a part."
MOVING GOAL POSTS
Ford's strategy differs from those of General Motors Co
and Nissan Motor Co, which created standalone
platforms for the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf. Lackluster
sales prompted GM to halt Volt production earlier this year.
"They over-reached," Tetreault said, of his rivals. "When
you're integrated the way we are, it doesn't matter."
Under its "One Manufacturing" strategy, Ford is working to
build more flexibility at its plants worldwide. Within three
years, Ford expects each of its assembly plants to make an
average of 4.5 models by 2015, up from 3.6 currently.
Over time, Ford aims to equip more of its plants to handle
multiple vehicle platforms. This is easier to do at plants that
build cars, sedans and crossovers, because trucks have different
design and build requirements, Tetreault said.
Ford's plant in Oakville, Ontario can handle three body
styles on two platforms and in Louisville, Kentucky, Ford can
build six styles on three platforms. Ford is working to make
other plants capable of building multiple platforms, but
changing fuel economy and safety requirements are a challenge.
"The objective to make (platforms) stronger, lighter, is
always out there," Tetreault said. "The real challenge is trying
to meld all of that together into a cohesive strategy. The goal
posts keep moving."