Ford Opens its Most Flexible Plant

Retooled Michigan Assembly Plant to produce new Focus and Focus Electric.

Thanks to a $550 million overhaul, Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant is churning out the new Ford Focus, and later this year will begin producing the Focus Electric.

The facility in Wayne, Mich., boasts "an environmentally friendly workplace with flexible manufacturing capability and a motivated, specially trained workforce ready to deliver a fuel-efficient new car to the marketplace," according to Ford.

Thanks to a flexible manufacturing system, Ford workers can build multiple models on one or more platforms in the same facility. The Focus Electric zero-emission battery-electric vehicle is slated to go into production late this year at the plant, followed by production of the new C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012.

"With this product lineup, Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant will be the first facility in the world capable of building a full array of vehicles -- gas-powered, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid -- all on the same production line," Ford said in a news release.

Ford noted that its investment in the facility "is supported by strong partnerships at the state, county and local level, as well as by Ford's green partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy."

The Michigan Assembly Plant is one of 11 Ford facilities in the United States participating in the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program initiated by Congress and implemented by the Obama administration.

Focus on Flexibility

Ford said the Michigan Assembly Plant is its most flexible facility, thanks to reprogrammable tooling in the body shop, standardized equipment in the paint shop and a common-build sequence in final assembly.

In its flexible body shop, at least 80% of the plant's robotic equipment can be programmed to weld various-sized vehicles -- a Ford first, according to the automaker.

The facility's integrated stamping facility allows the stamping and welding of all large sheet-metal parts on site, "ensuring maximum quality and minimum overhead."

"The plant also will employ an efficient, synchronous material flow, where parts and other components will move in kits to each operator, providing employees with the tools they need in the sequence they will need them," according to Ford.

According to the automaker, the Michigan Assembly Plant is the first U.S. facility to commercially use a three-wet paint application that will save about $3 million in production in natural gas and electricity.

"In most other automotive plants, we apply a layer of paint called the primer coat and we bake the unit, and then we put on the base coat and the clear coat, and we bake it again," said John Nowak, environmental engineer. "The three-wet process allows us to put on primer, base and clear, and bake it only once. We save all the electricity from the blowers that run the booths and the ovens, plus all the natural gas from heating the air and the ovens. Ford is leading the way on this greener, cleaner paint process."

Because of the differences in technique, the three-wet paint process produces 6,000 metric tons fewer carbon dioxide emissions per year compared with waterborne systems and 8,000 metric tons fewer CO2 emissions per year compared with conventional high-solvent-borne systems, according to Ford.

Among other green aspects of the Michigan Assembly Plant:

  • The facility boasts one of the largest solar-power-generation systems in the state, according to Ford. When the plant is inactive, such as on holidays, the stored solar energy will provide power during periods of insufficient or inconsistent sunlight. Ford estimates that the energy-cost savings will be approximately $160,000 per year.
  • The plant has 10 electric-vehicle-charging stations that recharge electric switcher trucks that transport parts between adjacent facilities, saving an estimated 86,000 gallons of gas a year.
  • The 50% of the parts arriving for the new Focus that come from Europe, packed in cardboard, are carefully collected, sorted and recycled, as is the bubble wrap, the Styrofoam and water bottles used by employees. Even the temporary wooden partitions that were put up as the plant was revamped and remodeled were donated to the local Habitat for Humanity.
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