DEARBORN - In the last five years, Ford has made record investments in engineering and manufacturing new powertrains and other fuel-saving technologies. The company’s continuously expanding lineup gives customers the power of choice to select the vehicle and powertrain that best suits their needs.
The “powertrain revolution” is not just impacting customers. It also is significantly affecting operations at Ford’s engine and transmission plants throughout the U.S.
Because the new technology is so sophisticated, both hourly and salaried employees have had to undergo extensive education and training, according to Kevin Bicking, director, North America Manufacturing, Engine Operations.
“As we’ve gone to direct injection, turbo chargers and twin independent variable cam timing technologies, we’ve had to re-educate our workforce on what the technology means, how the work they do fits into the engine assembly and the impact their work has on how the engine ultimately functions in the customer’s hands,” he said.
Similar training has been conducted at Ford’s transmission plants.
“Our people are much more technically astute and engaged in the business – from the tradespeople to the operators, and from the engineers to the supervisors – and that’s enabled us to be a lot more competitive globally,” said Ken Williams, director, North America Manufacturing, Transmission Operations.
Continuing education of employees has been very important to the success of Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 – the first Ford facility to produce the EcoBoost® engine. Charlie Binger, site manager, Cleveland Powertrain, says much more assembly and testing is required to manufacture an EcoBoost engine versus a normally aspirated engine.
“The biggest difference with the EcoBoost engine is the direct injection technology and the addition of the turbochargers,” he said.
Because direct injection involves high-pressure fuel, helium tests are conducted on each and every engine to prevent leaks. And a whole new and separate assembly line is required to install the turbo components and test them.
“There are a whole lot of additional connections and tests that take place on these engines beyond what you would typically have with a traditional gas engine,” said Binger. “The fit and function of the components completely determine the ability of the engine to perform, so if you have employees who aren’t properly installing tubes into the connections, tightening bolts and confirming that there aren’t any leaks, the customer will see it immediately.”
The sensitivity of the new powertrain technology also requires heightened levels of cleanliness in the plants.
“We’ve really upped our game on the overall cleanliness that we expect both from our supplier parts and from our own assembly of the engines and transmissions in our manufacturing facilities,” said Bicking. “The tolerance of these engines for any kind of debris in them is zero.”
Cleanliness is especially important in plants where turbochargers are installed.
“The turbo technology involves high-speed impeller vanes, so contamination is a big concern,” said Binger. “Employees have to keep their hands clean and keep the automation and equipment clean. Even the smallest pieces of debris – if assembled into the engine – will damage the vanes and cause the turbine to whine or fail.”
Another important change at Ford’s powertrain plants has been the introduction of new tooling, such as computer-numerically controlled machines (CNC) – precision cutting tools used to fabricate components for engines and transmissions that can easily be reprogrammed to perform new tasks with minimal disruption to production.
“That has been a big change to our manufacturing facilities,” said Bicking. “It gives us quicker changeover capability. As product mix changes, we can react to any kind of market-based changes quicker than we could in the past.”
Ford also has developed an internal database for its engine and transmission operations. Each component is built with a sophisticated embedded “birth history” that allows plant engineers to track the component at every stage of production.
“Today with the focus on quality and zero defects, it’s absolutely critical we have a very solid birth history from the case all the way through the finished transmission,” said Mark Willis, plant manager, Van Dyke Transmission Plant.
Willis says the new powertrain technology has added enormous complexity to plant operations at Van Dyke.
“We now do front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-drive and multiple ratios on a flex line, and we’ll soon have the capability to do hybrids on the same line,” he said.
The power of choice is resonating with consumers.
Current sales figures show, for example, that 40 percent of customers buying the new F-150 are choosing the model equipped with the new 3.7-liter EcoBoost, resulting in a tripling of the workforce at Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1.
And volume at the Van Dyke Transmission Plant has increased dramatically based on the popularity and growth of the six-speed transmissions and the platforms that support front-wheel drive.
“We’ve added multiple shifts to accommodate the added volume,” explained Willis. “The demand for six-speeds and the ability to product front-wheel-drive and all-wheel drive transmissions are certainly things this plant has benefited from.”
At the end of the day, the success of Ford’s powertrain revolution is the result of teamwork between many dedicated groups of people – from Product Development and Operations personnel to Purchasing and Ford’s supplier network.
“No one team can deliver this by themselves,” said Bicking.
All of Ford’s engine and transmissions plants are involved in the powertrain revolution. Here’s a glimpse at some of the newest technology being produced at Ford’s U.S. plants:
• Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 – EcoBoost engines
• Essex Engine Plant – 5.0-liter engine for Mustang and F-Series
• Romeo Engine Plant – 6.2-liter engine for Super Duty and F-Series
• Lima Engine Plant – 3.5- and 3.7-liter Ti-VCT engines for Explorer and Edge/Lincoln MKX
• Dearborn Engine Plant – 2.0-liter GDI engine for the Focus
• Van Dyke Transmission Plant – EcoBoost transmissions, Hybrid transmissions
• Livonia Transmission Plant – Six-speed EcoBoost transmission for F-Series
• Sharonville Transmission Plant – Gear sets for all six-speed transmissions
• Sterling Heights Axle Plant – Rear-wheel-drive units for all front-wheel-drive applications for Fiesta and Focus