LOUISVILLE - Late last week, Ford Motor Company invited local and national media along with government officials to tour the nearly remodeled Louisville Assembly Plant (LAP). This was the public’s first opportunity to view the changes to the facility since it closed in December 2010.
“We’re transforming the plant into a facility that’s going to be one of the most flexible sites in the world and the most flexible within Ford Motor Company," said John Savona, plant manager, LAP. "It will allow us to more quickly respond to customer model preferences, which often are driven by changes within the economy.”
A large portion of the U.S. $600 million investment begins in the body shop, which is almost 100 percent new and provides for the majority of the facility’s flexibility. Interestingly, LAP is introducing a new project called “Spark Free” robots. As the robots are welding body parts, there will be no sparks, as opposed to previous methods. This is a much more efficient and cleaner process than what is utilized in older facilities.
“We can flex on an hourly basis if needed. We have the capability now to change to production of a different model by reprogramming robots as opposed to completely re-tooling the facility,” confirmed Savona.
Similarly, new, more modern tooling and equipment has been installed in the Final Assembly area of the facility to promote a higher level of quality, as well as improved ergonomics for workers. For example, a new skillet system will automatically lower and raise the units as they are being assembled in each workstation to better facilitate the work being performed. This will allow the jobs to be performed at a height most appropriate for that particular function.
The fully transformed Louisville Assembly Plant will build the next-generation Escape on two shifts, with about 2,900 workers – about 1,800 more than the plant employed before being idled for its renovation. Three things contribute to these added jobs: line rate (i.e. the speed in which the line is running), the projected volume and the content of the vehicle.
The company estimates that for every job created within the facility, there is the opportunity for seven to eight more jobs to be created in the community.
LAP received high praise from Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, “What we will have here, when we’re complete with this facility, is the best automotive facility in the world; the most advanced and the most flexible. To me that’s a symbol of our city and our state. And what Ford’s doing with their lean practices and customer practices is something that we can all learn from.”
Fischer added, “I’d like to salute the partnership between the UAW, Ford, the state and the city. Ford would not be in Louisville manufacturing if they didn’t think they’d have world class productivity and world class quality. Labor understands that for them to thrive, they’ve got to stand for world-class labor, productivity and quality. These are the types of partnerships that are going to put our country back on track. People should be looking at this to learn on how we can get manufacturing jobs back in this country.”
The new Escape will be built on Ford’s all-new global C-car platform, which will eventually support up to 10 vehicles around the world and account for 2 million units of annual production by 2012.
“This puts Kentucky right at the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing processes and it’s going to tell the world that not only do we know how to work with companies to bring that process here, but we’ve got the skilled workforce right here in Kentucky that can step up and do the job for folks like Ford. This bodes so well for Kentucky’s future and I couldn’t be more excited about it,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear.
Ford estimates that it has 80 percent of the plant’s transformation completed. Pre-production vehicles are expected to begin running down the line by the end of the year.