DEARBORN – Jan. 17, 2012 is a day that Dearborn Engine Plant Area Manager Tom McWilliams won’t soon forget – both for the serious problem he faced at the plant that day and for the unexpected way that it was solved.
It was the beginning of the midnight shift at the Dearborn Engine Plant. A crucial component of the machinery used to make crankshafts malfunctioned and production had to shut down. To make matters worse, the part – a complex circuit board – was now obsolete and couldn’t be found anywhere. The supplier didn’t even make it anymore.
The crankshaft is an integral part of the engine for the new Ford Focus. And while there are roughly 2,000 crankshafts kept in reserve at the plant, McWilliams knew they wouldn’t last long. If the issue was not resolved quickly, the Focus engine line would have to stop production.
“It’s a ripple effect over time because we have a set inventory level of crankshafts in place to keep the engine line running, and once that’s depleted we have to shut the engine line down,” explained McWilliams.
McWilliams needed to get the machinery up and running and he needed to do it quickly.
“After making a lot of phone calls, we heard that Lima Engine Plant had a similar problem in the past and that they had done some form of conversion as an alternate source to this module or circuit board,” recalled McWilliams. “But it is not as easy as just plugging and playing. There is a lot of programming involved and a lot of expertise required to complete the conversion in a timely fashion.”
At that point, the crankshaft line had already been down approximately 16 hours. With routine production at an average rate of 60 per hour, that meant 960 units lost so far.
McWilliams quickly phoned Shawn Stewart, the area manager at Lima Engine Plant, who gave him some hopeful news.
“I told Tom that our controls engineer, Lynne Miller, had developed the conversion process – with assistance from controls engineer Joe Camps – and that we had the parts needed to complete the job,” said Stewart. “I told him we would send the parts to Dearborn and see if Lynne could help walk their controls engineer through the process by phone.”
Miller had just come off the night shift at Lima when he found out what was happening in Dearborn. He had only gotten three hours of sleep and the next day was supposed to be his day off. Despite all of that, he volunteered to make the two-and-a-half hour drive to Dearborn to handle the conversion himself.
“I knew they were close to sending the engine assembly line people home, and guess I just thought I could help,” said Miller.
There was just one caveat.
“I had to ask the boss first,” said Miller lightheartedly, referring to his wife. “My youngest child is four years old and I take care of her a couple of days a week at home while my wife is at work, so I needed to make sure that my wife was okay with it.”
After Mrs. Miller gave her husband the thumbs up, he got in his car and drove the 50 miles that he normally drives each day to the Lima plant to pick up the parts he needed to do the job. He arrived at the Dearborn Engine Plant at 9 p.m. and worked through the night until the machine was back up and running at 9 a.m. the next morning.
“He went way above and beyond the call of duty,” said McWilliams of Miller’s dedication. “If we had been down for much longer, we would have been at risk with our customer.”
McWilliams says that Miller is a great example of what the Go Further brand promise really means.
“The dedication not only to his own operation but to other Ford facilities is really what I’d like Lynne Miller to be acknowledged for,” he said. “He didn’t have to come all this way on his day off, and he did it without prompting.
He volunteered on his own to come and support another Ford facility.
Stewart echoes McWilliams feelings.
“We were very proud of him working with a sister plant, taking it serious and getting them back up to speed with the same sense of urgency that he would have with us,” he said. “The fact that he did it on his own as a volunteer says a lot about how we’ve developed our team here, how they look at the business case and how they do the right thing.”
Miller was recognized at a recent plant meeting attended by Ford Production System executives, including Adrian Price, director, FPS.
“I think Lynne’s actions encompass exactly what we mean by people going further,” said Price in a later interview. “In this case we could have potentially shorted some of our dealers with vehicles and Lynne went further to make the system operate as it should – outside of his normal role and responsibilities.”
As for the very humble Miller, he says he really didn’t think about it too much.
“I felt good about my knowledge of the situation and I would have felt worse if I didn’t go and help,” he said.