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TRAVERSE CITY -- When production of the all-new 2012 Ford Focus begins later this year, Ford Motor Company’s newly transformed Michigan Assembly Plant will be the company’s new benchmark for flexible manufacturing around the world.
Michigan Assembly is one of three truck plants in North America that Ford is revamping to make fuel-efficient passenger cars. The plant will build the new Focus and Focus Electric beginning next year with more models coming in the future.
At Michigan Assembly, Ford will utilize programmable equipment in its body shop, which will allow the company to run multiple body styles down the same production line without requiring considerable downtime for changeover of tooling. In fact, more than 80 percent of the body tooling in the plant’s body shop can be programmed to weld a variety of body styles without delay in tooling changeover and can adjust the mix between models without restrictions.
“If the last few years have taught us anything, it is that customer wants and needs can change quickly – much more quickly than we have been equipped to respond to efficiently in the past,” said Jim Tetreault, Ford vice president of North America Manufacturing. “At Michigan Assembly, we will achieve a level of flexibility we don’t have in any other plant around the world, which will allow us to meet shifting consumer preferences in real time.”
While the state-of-the-art Michigan Assembly facility is utilizing Ford’s industry-leading virtual manufacturing technology, three-wet paint process and a common build sequence in the final assembly area, the most significant step toward improving flexibility is taking place in its body shop. The company’s Manufacturing operations worked closely with its Product Development teams to construct product platform designs that enable use of the programmable equipment to produce multiple variations of products in one facility.
Body construction has long been a limiting factor in any plant’s flexibility. Under traditional systems, unique tooling is required to weld each individual vehicle body style. Running a different body style down the same line traditionally requires considerable additional downtime for physical tooling changeover.
In recent years, Ford has made important strides in assembly plant body shop flexibility in plants such as Chicago Assembly, Oakville Assembly and Kentucky Truck, where significantly different products are built on a common system. However, Ford’s latest strategy dramatically reduces physical tooling constraints through use of the programmable tooling technologies that eliminate the need to replace model-specific tooling for locating, clamping and welding. This saves time and limits disruption to the plant’s operations.
“Manufacturing flexibility provides a competitive advantage, so it is essential that we continue to improve our flexible capability,” Tetreault said. “The automakers with true flexibility will be positioned to compete more effectively in the global marketplace. That’s why continuous improvement in flexibility is a priority for us.”