Customer acceptance line. Vehicles are inspected for potential customer quality concerns.
Customer acceptance line. Vehicles are inspected for potential customer quality concerns. Click image to enlarge

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Article and photos by Grant Yoxon

Photo Gallery:
Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant

Wayne, Michigan – Eighteen months ago, Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant churned out large SUVs such as the Ford Expedition. A year ago, it had been cleared out, “gutted to the studs” as one Ford official put it. Today it has been completely retrofitted with the latest in modern manufacturing equipment, thanks to a $550 million dollar investment by Ford, to produce several of its C-platform vehicles including the 2012 Ford Focus (in four- and five-door configurations) and the 2012 Ford C-MAX.

Dynamic and static testing checks engine, transmission, brakes, tire pressure monitoring system, radio, air conditioning, keys, wiper programming, My Key and shifter lever.
Dynamic and static testing checks engine, transmission, brakes, tire pressure monitoring system, radio, air conditioning, keys, wiper programming, My Key and shifter lever. Click image to enlarge

It will be the first factory in the world to build gas-powered vehicles, gas-electric hybrids (HVs), plug-in hybrids (PHVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) on the same assembly line. Already producing the gas-powered Ford Focus and soon the C-Max, the Focus Electric zero-emission BEV will go into production late in 2011, while HV and PHV versions of the C-MAX will commence production in 2012.

During our visit to Detroit to see the new 2012 Ford Focus and 2012 Ford C-MAX, we took the opportunity to tour Ford’s “new” Michigan Assembly Plant.

The 1.2 million square foot assembly plant is Ford’s new benchmark for flexible manufacturing. For now at least, because Ford is in the process of modernizing most of its manufacturing and assembly operations around the world, Michigan Assembly is the most flexible, high-volume and modern facility in its global operations. The changes at the plant will allow multiple models to be built on the same line at the same time without requiring downtime for retooling. As well, it will allow the company to make running changes quickly, enabling it to respond to changes in consumer preferences in real time.

Dynamic and static testing booths
Dynamic and static testing booths. Click image to enlarge

Michigan Assembly will have the largest solar power generation system in the state. It will also have several electric vehicle charging stations to recharge the electric trucks used to move parts between adjacent facilities. A new 500-kW solar panel system is integrated with a 750-kW energy storage system that can store two million watt-hours of energy. A secondary, smaller solar energy system will be added at a later date to power lighting systems in the plant. Total energy costs savings are estimated at $160,000 per year.

Innovations in the plant include a new three-wet paint booth – each car is primed, painted and clear-coated in one uninterrupted operation – uses 66 paint robots with seven axis of movement to precisely apply paint to the cars. In the body shop are 500 new robots capable of 4,000 welds per vehicle and a programmable robotic jig system that allows body panels of different body styles to be joined without retooling. And a new internal communications system provides updates and information to the plant’s 3,200 employees via 163 monitors.

Improving quality, of course, has been a major consideration in the refurbishment. Throughout the course of assembly vehicles are subjected to numerous quality tests and checks to ensure every bolt, seam and joint has been thoroughly inspected.

Ford associate demonstrates new electric power tool installing a side curtain airbag
Ford associate demonstrates new electric power tool installing a side curtain airbag. Click image to enlarge

Among the many improvements is virtual manufacturing technology to improve ergonomics for easier and safer work, a redesigned water soak testing booth to ensure zero entry of water, a state of the art squeak and rattle track that shakes and rolls vehicles for noise, better illumination for vehicle inspections, moving platforms with real-time height adjustments to improve ergonomics for workers, vision-guided automation for better installation, fit-and-finish of doors, decks and hoods, and electronic tools capable of precisely measuring torque and rotations to properly secure bolts, screws and other attachments.

The new Michigan Assembly prepares Ford well for the future, ensuring it has the flexibility to respond to consumer demands in a highly competitive marketplace. During our tour of the facility we came away with a new respect for the technology required to produce today’s cars and by Ford’s efforts to provide a manufacturing facility that is safe and ergonomic and environmentally friendly.

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