Ford Motor Company’s Michigan Assembly Plant, which once churned out large SUVs, has completed a $550 million transformation that will make it the world’s first factory to build not only fuel-efficient gas-powered cars, but also three production versions of electrified vehicles including battery electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid.
Michigan Assembly will be home to the all-new global Ford Focus, which has started production and goes on sale early next year. The Focus Electric zero-emission battery electric vehicle goes into production late next year followed by production of a new hybrid and a plug-in hybrid in 2012.
“We’ve modernized just about every square foot of this facility to establish a new standard for a high-tech, green, flexible and efficient auto factory,” said Jim Tetreault, Ford vice president of North America Manufacturing. “The transformation of Michigan Assembly Plant stands as a symbol for the transformation of Ford.”
On the outside, a new 500-kilowatt solar panel system will be installed to help generate renewal energy for production of Ford’s all-new Focus and Focus Electric cars. Ten new electric vehicle charging stations on the property will be used to recharge the electric trucks that transport parts between adjacent facilities.
Inside, new cars making the three-mile trip down the assembly line must pass dozens of rigorous quality inspections. A new three-wet paint booth utilizes 66 paint robots with seven axis of movement to precisely apply paint to the cars. In the body shop, 500 new robots capable of 4,000 welds per vehicle add to the plant’s flexibility. And a new internal communications system flashes updates and information to the plant’s 3,200 employees via 163 monitor screens distributed throughout the plant.
Flexible: Trends move fast
Bright, modern and green – like the car it is building – the refurbished Michigan Assembly Plant is the company’s new benchmark for flexible manufacturing. At 1.2 million square feet – about the size of 22 football fields – the plant becomes Ford’s most flexible, high-volume and modern manufacturing facility in its global operations. Ford will continue to evolve its manufacturing flexibility as the company’s facilities are rapidly being transformed into more nimble, flexible, and technologically advanced operations.
The changes at the plant will allow the company to run multiple models down the same production line without requiring considerable downtime for changeover of tooling. Two different models of the Focus can be adjusted between builds without restrictions.
“If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that customer wants and needs can change quickly – much more quickly than we have been equipped to efficiently respond to in the past,” said Tetreault. “At Michigan Assembly, we will achieve a level of flexibility we don’t have in any other plant around the world, which will allow us to meet shifting consumer preferences in real time.”
Renewable: Power from the sun
Michigan Assembly also will boast Michigan’s largest solar power generation system and several electric vehicle charging stations for greener, more sustainable manufacturing when installation is completed next year.
Ford is teaming with Detroit Edison and Xtreme Power to install the 500-kilowatt solar photovoltaic panel system. The system will be integrated with a 750-kilowatt energy storage facility that can store 2 million watt-hours of energy using batteries – enough to power 100 average Michigan homes for a year. A secondary, smaller solar energy system will be added at a later date to power lighting systems at Michigan Assembly. The combined systems are expected to result in projected energy cost savings of about $160,000 per year.
Quality: At every turn
To ensure best-in-class quality for the all-new Focus, vehicles on the line will endure rigorous examinations. Workers will perform hundreds of comprehensive quality tests and checks to ensure every bolt, seam and joint has been thoroughly inspected before continuing down the line.
“We are leveraging our people, processes and products to consistently build cars that will surpass the competition,” said Tetreault. “This plant embodies everything we as a company strive to become – modern, efficient, flexible, global and sustainable.”
Contributing to Focus’ best-in-class quality and Michigan Assembly’s transformation:
——Virtual manufacturing technology to improve ergonomics for easier, safer work
——Redesigned water soak testing booth to ensure zero water entry for long-term durability
——Highly efficient and environmentally friendly painting process
——Best-in-class squeak and rattle track that shakes and rolls vehicles for noises
——New energy-efficient illumination lighting for better vehicle inspections
——Moving platforms with real-time height adjustments for better operator ergonomics
——Vision-guided automation for better installation, fit-and-finish of doors, decks and hoods
——New robotic paint spray booths for more consistent and environmentally friendly application
——Electric tools capable of precisely measuring torque and the number of rotations required to secure bolts, screws and other attachments
Adding to the physical transformation of the plant, Ford and the United Auto Workers have developed a framework to establish a strong, progressive culture that encourages joint problem solving and continuous improvement of the production process.
“This plant is an inspirational example of how a modern manufacturing facility should look and work,” said Tetreault. “It’s bright, high-tech and efficient, while also being environmentally and ergonomically friendly.”