DEARBORN - The Ford Production System (FPS) is the blueprint for the way that Ford operates within all of its manufacturing facilities throughout the world. One of the foundational elements of that blueprint is a team-based organization on the plant floor that is designed to engage and motivate each and every member of the workforce to participate in making decisions about how the business operates.
“That’s where the rubber meets the road,” said Adrian Price, director, FPS. “Our plant employees are the ones that deal with the issues. They’re the ones that deal with the process. And they’re the ones that can recommend real tangible improvements that are going to impact their safety as well as the quality and flow of our products.”
The concept of giving plant employees a greater voice in the daily operation of Ford’s manufacturing facilities was outlined in the 2011 contract negotiations between Ford and the UAW, in support of the Global Standard. Prior to those negotiations, all of the people at the company’s U.S. manufacturing facilities were organized in different ways.
“The premise of these teams is for the employees out there to own the business, whereas before they really didn’t have the opportunity to do that,” said Steve Zimmerla, assistant director, Continuous Improvement, UAW National Ford Department. “It’s really going to be a change of culture as to how decisions are going to be made on the plant floor.”
Zimmerla says that the commitment between Ford and the UAW has and will continue to be instrumental not only in creating and implementing the new team structure at Ford facilities throughout North America but in achieving Ford’s overall goal of becoming the best in the world.
“There’s a true commitment from both sides on this and I think that’s extremely important for the people on the floor to understand,” he said. “They need to know that the UAW is supporting this and that we’re backing it.”
Bill Dirksen, executive director, Ford Labor Affairs, strongly agrees.
“Ford and the UAW have had a very strong partnership, and we expect it to continue that way,” he said. “There have been issues that have come up in the implementation process and we’ve worked through them and more will come up and we’ll continue to work through them. The important thing is we’re working on it together.”
The progress of implementing the team structure is being closely monitored by the top leadership of Ford and the UAW National Ford Department. Frank Keatts, administrative assistant, UAW, believes that when the teams are launched correctly it will change the way manufacturing plants are operated within Ford Motor Company and allow the UAW hourly workers to have true input into how the business is being run.
“No one knows the equipment, the production processes or what it takes to produce a best-in-class quality product better than the UAW employees working the line,” he said. “The proper implementation of the team structure will show the UAW workers in the plant that the UAW-Ford partnership includes all workers and respects their ideas.”
The new team structure being implemented at Ford’s manufacturing facilities includes three types of teams: Production Work Teams (PWT), Maintenance Work Teams (MWT) and Manufacturing Work Groups (MWG).
PWTs are comprised of production workers in largely cyclical areas of the plant; mainly in Assembly. MWTs are made up of skilled employees who work together to maintain equipment and make improvements that enhance production flow. And MWGs are cross-functional teams comprised of both skilled and production workers that work primarily in highly automated areas.
These teams will vary in size, location, and skill sets based on the geography and process. Each plant will have multiple teams who will be provided with the skills and capabilities to complete a range of tasks to improve the business within their area. whether that be minor maintenance tasks or workstation improvements.
“In Final Assembly, for example, you might have a long production line with 120 people on it. They would be divided into 10 to 12 teams, so each team would own a different piece of the line,” explained Price. “Each team would be responsible for the operation of the equipment, some minor maintenance tasks and the way the process operates in their section of assembly.”
Each of the teams will be led by a team leader, an hourly worker who is selected to perform a set of key roles and responsibilities and is paid an additional $1.50 per hour above base pay.
“Hourly workers know their part of the business better than anybody,” said Dirksen. “They’ve worked in the area. They have the hands-on knowledge of the equipment and machinery. They also have relationships with their fellow team members.”
Under the new team structure, supervisors who previously were in charge of overseeing plant operations on the floor will now take on more of a strategic role for the teams, leveraging resources and instituting continuous improvements. They will be called Process Coaches.
“By having this structure in place, we can engage people not only in just managing what works and what doesn’t work but also in thinking about how we can make the process better and improve it,” said Price.
Standardizing the team structure at all Ford plants across the globe paves the way for even greater benefits, says Price.
“The goal would be for each and every plant to have the same structure in place so that as we figure out a better way of doing something then that can be passed along to the same piece of the line in the same type of plant elsewhere within the Ford system,” said Price. “At the end of the day, one employee’s suggestion can actually help us across multiple plants.”
But change doesn’t always come easily, admits Price.
“Having 104 years of manufacturing under our belt is a huge strength but sometimes it gets in the way,” he said. “But the reality I think for all of our employees around the world is we’re all very proud of working for Ford Motor Company and it’s cool to think about making an improvement that might be passed down through the organization for years to come and being part of that history.”
Zimmerla says he believes plant employees will realize the advantages of the new team structure as they progress further along in the journey and the joint team is following a structured approach to do this.
“There’s a little bit of emotion built around it because it is change, and a lot of people don’t like change,” he said. “But once they start seeing the benefits of it and seeing that they’re actually being empowered to run the business, they’re going to like it.”