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Ford Opens Flexible, Green Michigan Assembly Plant

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Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne. Photo by Dwight Carlson from Wikipedia Commons

Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne. Photo by Dwight Carlson from Wikipedia Commons

(credit: istock) Technology Report
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Ford Motor Co. is celebrating production of its all-new global Ford Focus, built for North American customers in its completely transformed Michigan Assembly Plant.

Following a $550 million transformation, the plant features an environmentally friendly workplace with flexible manufacturing capability and a motivated, specially trained work force ready to deliver a fuel-efficient new car to the marketplace.

“MAP epitomizes the best of what Ford stands for — fuel efficiency, quality, smart technology,” said Mark Fields, president of the Americas. “Focus delivers even more of what customers truly want and value — and this new car could not arrive in the market at a better time.”

The new Focus sets a new standard in the small car segment in North America, offering more technology and features than more expensive European cars, such as Sync with Traffic, Directions and Information, MyFord Touch, active park assist and Wi-Fi access, while delivering up to an unsurpassed 40 mpg with an automatic transmission. 

Fuel economy and greener driving will be built into each new vehicle slated for production at MAP. With its 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.

The company’s investment in Wayne 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. Michigan Assembly Plant is one of 11 Ford facilities in the U.S. participating in the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program initiated by Congress and implemented by the Obama administration. This green loan program is helping to develop advanced technology vehicles and strengthen American manufacturing across the country. Ford, Nissan, Tesla, Fisker and Vehicle Production Group are all participants in this initiative.

MAP is Ford’s most flexible plant, thanks to reprogrammable tooling in the body shop, standardized equipment in the paint shop and a common-build sequence in final assembly. This flexibility allows the Ford team to produce multiple models on the same assembly line — and in even more environmentally friendly ways.

In its flexible body shop, at least 80 percent of MAP’s robotic equipment can be programmed to weld various-sized vehicles — a Ford first. And, MAP’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.

Michigan Assembly is the first U.S. plant to commercially use a three-wet paint application that will save about $3 million in production in natural gas and electricity – without compromising Ford’s paint quality or durability.

“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 — including robotic processing, elimination of equipment and associated pollutants, and increased line speed — the three-wet paint process produces 6,000 metric tons fewer CO2 emissions per year compared to waterborne systems and 8,000 metric tons fewer CO2 emissions per year compared to conventional high-solvent-borne systems. There also is a volatile organic compounds (VOC) emissions savings of 5 percent related to processing.

MAP also boasts one of the largest solar power generation systems in the state as well as several electric vehicle charging stations, allowing the plant to operate on a blend of renewable and conventional electricity.

Renewable energy collected by the solar panels directly feeds the energy-efficient microgrid, helping power the plant. When the plant is inactive, such as holidays, the stored solar energy will provide power during periods of insufficient or inconsistent sunlight. The projected energy cost savings is approximately $160,000 per year.

“We have taken steps great and small to make the plant as green as possible,” Nowak said. “Our goal was to help the 4,000 Ford employees make this several-million-square-foot facility truly environmentally friendly and cost-efficient.”

The plant also 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.

Plus, the 50 percent of the parts arriving for the all-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.

Ford noted that equipment isn’t all it takes for a plant transformation to occur. Work force training is equally important. Doug Mertz, organization development manager at MAP, worked with the team to develop training that would focus on the plant’s operating principles — safety, quality and flexible manufacturing — with high priority placed on respect for people, product and processes. 

Group leaders from Wayne Assembly Plant participated in an intense, three-week quality education, which included pre-builds of the new Focus and in-depth training on safety, ergonomics and work-station design. In addition, group leaders were trained on “soft skills,” such as developmental leadership, personality preferences and their impact on behavior, conflict resolution, change management, techniques for teaching others, and other skills to aid in situations specific to their base departments.

“Since the group leaders would be training the base operators when they came to the MAP site, we wanted them to understand not only the implication of performing their job correctly, but also the impact that performing the job incorrectly would have downstream,” said Mertz.

As the full MAP salaried and hourly work force arrived at Michigan Assembly Plant, operating patterns helped to ease the transition. The first week, the normally two-shift operation was combined into one so that group leaders on both day and afternoon shifts could work collectively with their teams and ensure standardization of work practices. Shifts continued to overlap so line employees could work together and minimize variability on job performance.

“The all-new Ford Focus is truly global in the sense that we’ve created it to satisfy the needs and wants of people all around the world,” said Plant Manager Rob Webber. “This has been an exciting challenge but one we’re ready for. We have the people and processes in place to deliver on the promise of the new Ford Focus and the many products to come.”

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