* Ford tests global manufacturing standards at Thailand
* 3D scanner, new paint process, no forklifts are new
By Deepa Seetharaman
RAYONG, Thailand, Aug 31 At its just-opened
$450-million factory in Thailand, Ford Motor Co prides
itself on being "fork-free."
Eliminating forklifts, which can have big blind spots, from
the floor improves worker safety, the U.S. automaker says. Ford
instead uses trolleys to bring parts to workers on the line
This shift is just one example of the new manufacturing
standard that Ford is rolling out at its plants worldwide. Such
changes are key to helping Ford cut costs and boost quality as
it moves toward building more cars on shared global platforms.
Many of these practices are being tested at Ford Thailand
Manufacturing, Ford's newest factory, where the automaker now
builds its Focus compact for the local market here and other
countries in southeast Asia.
Over time, Ford expects to export such practices to other
plants worldwide, including some in the United States.
"Thailand is the first of a number of facilities that are
going to look and feel exactly the same," said John Fleming,
Ford's head of global manufacturing and labor affairs, in an
Workers at the Rayong factory, about an hour outside
Bangkok, use a three-dimensional scanner to assess auto parts
for fit and quality problems. The plant also employs a method of
drying paint that only requires one oven instead of two.
Developing a single system of building vehicles is part of
Chief Executive Alan Mulally's "One Ford" strategy to unify the
company's once-disconnected business units.
Ford already is seeing cost benefits from creating global
manufacturing standards, Fleming said, adding that "second
cycle" investment costs -- those connected with the redesign of
existing vehicles such as the Focus -- are 60 percent lower now
than they used to be.
"When there are no standards, it's very difficult to
replicate good ideas," Fleming said. Now, however, "we can
really use them as best practices."
Already, many of Ford's plants have quit using forklifts,
including those in Europe and Mexico, as well as the automaker's
newest plant in Chongqing, China. The standard is being
implemented next in the United States.
Ford began using the 3D scanner here as a way of ensuring
quality in Thailand, where quality problems are still prevalent
among parts suppliers.
Ford's plant in Louisville, Kentucky, now uses the 3D
scanner, said Gary Johnson, head of manufacturing in Asia
Pacific and Africa.
"We're updating other plants to have that new technology to
look at what the incoming quality is, from domestic-made and
imported parts," Johnson said.
Some practices are dictated by local economic conditions,
executives said. The minimum wage in Thailand, which is 300 baht
a day or less than $10, means Ford relies more on manual labor
than it does at U.S. plants. About half the work is done by hand
at the body shop in Rayong.
But Thailand's unemployment rate of less than 1 percent also
presents challenges for Ford to meet its growth targets. To
attract workers, the plant offers free uniforms, daily lunch and
transportation to and from work, said Trevor Negus,
manufacturing director of the plant.
"It may be that over time in this region or other regions we
need to increase the levels of automation, because we aren't
able to get all of the people that we need," Fleming said.
Since 2006, Ford has poured $6.7 billion into the Asia
Pacific region, with the bulk of the investment -- nearly $5
billion -- going to China, to build new factories, launch new
models and add dealers. Ford has introduced four new vehicles in
Southeast Asia, including Thailand, and aims to launch four more
Success in the region is essential to meeting Mulally's goal
of selling 8 million cars worldwide by 2015. Sales in Thailand
are expected to hit about 1.3 million vehicles this year.
Ford opened the FTM plant in May. The plant is flooded with
natural light, helped by see-through panels installed on the
ceiling. The walls have vents and the roof is open in certain
areas, which allows the air to change four to six times an hour.