It was eight degrees and 12:43 in the morning when we arrived at the Dearborn Inn. Just inside the lobby a giant gingerbread Ford Model T lavished with a dizzying array of treats welcomed us in from the frigid Michigan winter. Ford Candy Land. The eldest of our auto journalists dropped his bags and hurried over to inspect the edible wonder.
“Would you look at that”, he marveled, close enough to eat one of the iconic fenders.
Dinner had long since concluded in the Alexandria Ballroom. There was nothing left to do but sink into one of the Inn’s heavenly beds and pray for a few hours of sleep before breakfast at 7:00 a.m.
At 6:52 in the morning I stumbled from the bathroom in a desperate haze to guzzle the single cup of coffee that was left brewing while I showered.
Apparently the cup never made it under the drip. A pile of bath towels and a fruit cocktail later our group of auto journalists boarded a shuttle to Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant.
Besides the privilege of being introduced to a handful of Ford’s still top-secret upcoming models, the plant itself was reason enough for the trip. After years of pumping out large SUV’s during their glory days, Ford recently spent $550 million transforming the 1.2 million square foot facility into the world’s first factory to build not only gas-powered cars, but also three production versions of electric vehicles, including battery electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid.
Half a billion dollars later, with a healthy dose of input from the United Auto Workers, the U.S. based plant is now Ford’s most flexible, high-volume and modern manufacturing location of all its global operations.
“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 efficiently respond to in the past,” said Jim Tetreault, Ford vice president of North American 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.”
Let’s dig into that PR jargon a bit:
FLEXIBLE: Changes at the plant make it possible to run multiple models down the same 3.2 mile assembly line without having to shut down production for the changeover of tooling. For example, two different models of the Focus can now be adjusted between builds without throwing a wrench into the work flow.
MODERN (This is a biggin’):
-500 new robots capable of 4,000 welds per vehicle
-New internal communications system flashes updates and information to the plant’s 3,200 employees via 163 monitor screens
-Michigan’s largest solar power generation system - Stores up to 2 million watt-hours of energy using batteries – enough to power 100 average Michigan homes for a year, resulting in projected energy cost savings of $160,000 per year
In a nutshell, or a building the size of 22 football fields rather, the new plant embodies everything Ford is working to become:
Modern. Efficient. Flexible. Global. Sustainable.
Before we were allowed to tour the new mother of all things Ford, we were ushered into one of the plant’s massive corners for a presentation on a handful of new cars that would soon be rolling off her assembly line. None of them were known to the general public.
The area was walled off with towering blue dividers. A polished Ford emblem the size of a Volkswagen hung ten feet from the ground on the front entryway. This wasn't Kansas.
Part 1: http://tinyurl.com/27cl96m