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Ford Plant Restarts Engines With Skilled Training

May 17, 2009
Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 used lean manufacturing and new cultural practices that helped the plant gain a new engine.

A Ford Motor Co. plant that sat idle for two years is back in business after the company said in February its Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 would build EcoBoost 3.5-liter engines. Initially the plant will employ approximately 250 people transferred from other sites, far fewer than the nearly 600 workers who built engines at the 58-year-old facility before the shutdown in 2007.

But John Nahornyj, a UAW representative for the plant, knows it could have been worse. In 1996 the company told workers at the facility the plant would close. Union leaders had their differences with management but realized they needed to make some changes to save the plant, said Nahornyj, while speaking at a press event in Cleveland to support workforce development legislation.

John Nahornyj

They responded by implementing lean manufacturing and new cultural practices that helped the plant gain a new engine. Unfortunately, the new product didnt sell as Ford had hoped, prompting the company to cut the units afternoon shift. Soon after, another engine arrived, this time a 3.5-liter V-6 that also was being produced at Fords Lima, Ohio, facility. But once again, demand was down and not strong enough to support production at two plants -- so Ford shut down the Cleveland facility.

Prior to the closing, Nahornyj said he noticed a change in the workers attitudes and the way they performed their jobs. "We learned you need to continuously improve and look for opportunities to build the skills of the workforce," says Nahornyj, who serves as employee resource and Ford Production System coordinator.

Employees at Fords Cleveland Engine Plant No. 1 are back at work thanks in part to enhanced training programs and lean manufacturing initiatives that began in the mid-1990s.

As production slowed down, the union proposed a four-day workweek with lean training on the fifth day rather than slowing down their work rate, Nahornyj says. The training helped build team unity by bringing leaders and assembly workers together. For instance, team leaders and assembly workers utilize an ergonomics lab where they can simulate jobs and offer input on how to improve work conditions and productivity, according to Nahornyj.

When the company announced plans to start producing the EcoBoost at the facility, plant leaders prepared by sending workers to a local community college for additional training. Machining technicians and production team leaders received four weeks of on-site classroom training and 10 credit hours toward an associates degree in advanced manufacturing. Among the skills workers learned during their instruction were preventive and predictive maintenance, says Nahornyj. "Team leaders now understand the mechanical aspects of manufacturing," he says.

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