IW Best Plants Profile - 1990

Ford Motor Company's 3.95-million-square-foot assembly plant in Wixom, producing over 1,000 cars each day, is a complex wonderland of mechanization and automation, including state-of-the-art robotics and a maze of conveyor systems that move through the plant at different levels.

What is particularly impressive is that Wixom, a 1990 Best Plant award winner, builds three entirely different automobiles the Lincoln Continental, the Lincoln Town Car, and the Mark VII all on the same line. It adds up to a major manufacturing challenge, one that has brought out the best in Wixom's 3,000-plus employees.

Wixom was one of the first U.S. auto plants to embrace employee involvement (EI), in the early 1980s, as part of a union-management partnership. More than 30 EI teams meet weekly to tackle quality problems and other matters.

During the design of the 1990 Lincoln Town Car, for example, 110 prototypes were built right on the assembly line, each mixed in with current production models. Workers helped to "tweak" the design to improve quality and ease of assembly. No fewer than 2,600 of their suggestions were incorporated into the final design.

As an assembly plant, Wixom relies heavily on its 670 suppliers. And suppliers who are not performing up to snuff quickly get the message.

Once a month, the CEOs or presidents of the plant's five worst suppliers based on sampling inspections of incoming parts are summoned to a meeting and asked to document what they are doing to solve their quality problems. "And if they don't make instant improvement," says plant manager Paul Nolan, "they may be invited back the following month."

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