Ford making plants more flexible, efficient
DETROIT (Oct. 9, 2013) — Ford Motor Co. is expanding its manufacturing footprint in emerging markets and overhauling its production methods to give it more flexibility and reduce plant downtime, company executives said Oct. 7.
A global expansion that began in 2011 will see the addition by 2015 of new assembly plants in China and India, as well as new powertrain plants in Brazil, China, India and Russia, Ford officials said here at a ceremony marking the centennial of Henry Ford's moving assembly line.
The auto maker also said it is reducing the number of global vehicle platforms to nine from 15 by 2017, and plans to build an average of four different vehicles per plant in a bid to improve efficiency, reduce cost and respond more quickly to changing consumer tastes.
Ford aims to further improve its manufacturing flexibility and speed by adopting such advanced techniques as 3D printing of prototype parts.
In a statement, Ford said 90 percent of its global factories by 2017 will run virtually around the clock on three shifts a day, boosting production run time by more than 30 percent. Ford plans to launch 114 models globally over the next five years.
Century long practices
There are few inventions in the auto industry that began a century ago like the moving assembly line did that still play a major role, said John Fleming, Ford's executive vice president of global manufacturing.
The production line was needed for the development of the mass manufacturing model that's now commonplace, he said during a ceremony.
Nowadays, Ford body shops and welding operations are 95 percent automated, while paint shops are fully robotic.
Although production technologies continue to advance, Mr. Fleming said there will always be a combination of humans and automation at vehicle plants.
Mr. Fleming said there are three criteria Ford thinks about when deciding how much automation is needed:
• What's the safest and most ergonomic method to produce vehicles?
• What do they need to produce the best quality?
• What makes the right business decision?
Referring to the production line moving behind him, Mr. Fleming said:
"What you do see is many technological improvements. You see automation to take waste out, you see automation to improve quality and you see ergonomic improvements where conveyors can move up and down to present the vehicle to the best possible place for the teams to do their work."
Reporter Vince Bond and Reuters contributed to this report, which appeared on autonews.com, the website of Automotive News, a Detroit-based sister publication of Tire Business.
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