DEARBORN - In 2012, many Ford North American manufacturing plants will begin to increase their capacity utilization by operating around the clock with three shifts of employees working a total of 24 hours a day five days a week.
The strategy – which will eventually migrate to all of the company’s powertrain, stamping and assembly plants – will enable Ford to maximize production, create new jobs, become more competitive and enhance job security for plant employees.
“We’re on a path to utilize our facilities more fully,” said Jim Tetreault, vice president, North American Manufacturing, noting that plants typically operate on two eight-hour shifts plus overtime when needed. “With multiple vehicle lines in almost every plant and employees working around the clock, we can vary our model mix more readily, respond quicker to shifts in consumer demand and maintain a more efficient manufacturing system.”
Running plants around the clock will enable Ford to maximize the investment in its manufacturing facilities.
“Idle time in the plant is unrealized capacity. You installed it but you’re not using it, so it’s not efficient,” explained Tetreault. “If Chicago Assembly Plant was working with the capacity model we’re talking about, they could produce more than 350,000 cars a year, compared to the 280,000 cars they were producing 10 years ago with the same line rate. So we would be building an extra 70,000 cars a year at basically the same investment expense that we paid years ago.”
The new model will bring new jobs to Ford because plants would be operating day, afternoon and midnight shifts.
“Every shift brings with it a lot more employees,” said Tetreault. “So it will increase a plant’s employment significantly.”
The impact of hiring new people into Ford’s manufacturing facilities goes well beyond the plant walls.
“Every one employee in Manufacturing supports more than nine other jobs in the community, ” explained Tetreault. “In an average assembly plant, we bring in about 3,000 parts a day per vehicle – instrument panels, electronics, door trim panels and other mechanical components – so you can imagine the number of jobs that go along with that.”
The new structure also will enable Ford to become more competitive.
“The better we are at using our manufacturing capacity, the more competitive we’ll become and the better position we’ll be in to deliver profitable growth for all of our stakeholders,” said Tetreault.
The flexibility of Ford’s manufacturing plants combined with the increased capacity that will come from having employees working around the clock will enable the company to be even more responsive to changing market conditions.
Michigan Assembly Plant, for example, will be the first plant in the world to build gasoline-powered, battery electric, hybrid electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles all on the same assembly line.
“Say gas prices continue going up and luxury cars fall off but people still need sport utilities to drive, we can reduce the production of one vehicle, raise the production of another vehicle, keep the plant running and be able to respond to the market without building cars and trucks that people don’t want,” said Tetreault.
According to Tetreault, increased capacity utilization translates into enhanced job security for Ford employees.
“Having that level of flexibility puts us in a better position to respond to shifts in consumer preference in real time,” he said. “That helps us to be a more flexible, responsive automaker in the longer term, which inevitably leads to increased job security for our employees.”