Photo: Ford
Industryweek 7778 F150 Rouge 08

Ford: Taking the Aluminum Risk

Nov. 17, 2014
Ford completely reinvented its operations at the Ford Rouge Center – the historic campus Henry Ford established in 1917 – to manufacture the aluminum bodied pickup truck.

Sparks no longer fly in the Ford body shop in Dearborn, Mich., where the company just started making its 2015 F-150.

Instead, there’s only the dull hum of 500 robots, using high speed screws.

That’s because Ford (IW 500/6) (F) completely reinvented its operations at the Ford Rouge Center – the historic campus Henry Ford established in 1917 – to manufacture the aluminum bodied pickup truck.

“We are transforming the future of manufacturing here in the U.S.,” said CEO Mark Fields during a media event Nov. 11 -- the day the first 2015 F-150 rolled off of the production line.

The introduction of the 2015 F-150 -- a pickup with a high-strength steel frame and an aluminum-alloy body – is an aggressive move by Ford in the automotive lightweighting battle. The new truck weighs 700 pounds less, yet can tow 1,100 more pounds, haul 530 more pounds and is projected to have a 5% to 20% higher fuel economy.

“Yeah, this is a risk, but it’s one well worth taking,” chairman Bill Ford said.

Ford poured $359 million into its Dearborn truck plant alone to convert production to the aluminum body, and invested another $1.1 billion into its Kansas City Assembly Plant in Claycomo, Mo., where production of the 2015 F-150 will begin in the first quarter of 2015. Ford is mirroring its Dearborn operations in its Kansas City plant.

Together, the two plants will be able to produce 700,000 trucks per year.

In the Dearborn diversified plant, an entire hyrdroforming process has been added to create the truck’s roof rails, a function that previously had been outsourced.

“We felt it was critical that we learned this expertise,” said Frank Piazza, plant manager of Dearborn Diversified and Dearborn stamping and a Ford employee for 38 years. “It gives us better control.”

After the changeover plan was announced two years ago, Ford started retraining existing employees to be ready for the switch.

“It’s easy to come up with an idea, but it’s hard to implement that,” said Jimmy Settles, UAW vice president and director of the National Ford Department.

To handle production of the new F-150, Ford hired 850 workers across its Dearborn Truck, Diversified and Stamping facilities, adding about 500 at Dearborn Truck, 300 at Dearborn Stamping and 50 at Dearborn Diversified.

“It’s been challenging, but it’s nothing we didn’t plan for,” said Ron Ketelhut, chief engineer for body construction.

The company plans to be back up to full production by the second quarter of 2015.

“It’s mind boggling at how fast they changed everything,” said David Frame, Ford process leader of chassis assembly, said Nov. 11 as the first new F-150 rolled off of the production line. “We’re excited just to get running again.” 

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