12/03/2002 – Ford’s New Flexible Assembly System Will Save Up To $2 Billion Over 10 Years

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Source: Ford Motor Company

DEARBORN, Mich., Dec. 3, 2002 — Ford’s three plants producing the all-new 2004 F-150 in Norfolk, Va., Kansas City, Mo., and Dearborn, Mich. will lead the company’s roll out of its new flexible assembly system.

Consider equipment changeovers that once took months being accomplished in days. That’s what will happen with Ford Motor Company’s new next-generation flexible manufacturing system to be installed in the company’s North American assembly operations. Plus, it’ll be much more cost-effective than other systems.

  • Instead of paying a higher price for flexibility, as is usual in the industry, the Ford system will cost 10 percent to 15 percent less than traditional non-flexible systems, with a 50 percent savings in changeover costs. Over the next decade, Ford expects to save $1.5 billion to $2 billion with this all-new system.
  • The body shop employs an industry-first system of standardized cells, or modules, all built from a select group of components. Only product-specific tooling needs to be changed or computers and robots reprogrammed to launch new products.
  • Each flexible plant will be capable of producing two different platforms with four different models off each platform. Dearborn Truck will be the most flexible, capable of producing nine models off three platforms.
  • By mid-decade in North America, about half of Ford’s body shops, trim and final assembly operations will be flexible. That number rises to 75 percent by the end of the decade.

‘With increasing market segmentation, Ford’s new flexible assembly system means the company can react more quickly to shifting customer demand,’ said Al Ver, vice president, Ford Advanced and Manufacturing Engineering. ‘The company will be able to produce a wider variety of vehicles, change the mix of products and options, and change volumes ‘ all with minimal investment and changeover loss.’

Ford’s new system standardizes the assembly process, which improves productivity through reduced changeover downtime. Standardization helps improve quality through increased repeatability. Plus, improved ease of access results in improved safety and ergonomics for operators and maintenance crews.

Next-Generation Body Shops With Significant Cost Savings

Flexibility in the body shop is the most important component of flexible manufacturing because of the complexity and cost of the operation. Ford’s new flexible body shop system will cost less than both traditional body shops and other flexible systems, which generally are at a premium.

‘Ford’s new system has standard components that provide greater economies of scale when purchasing equipment, with greater reuse of that equipment,’ said Roman Krygier, group vice president, Ford Global Manufacturing and Quality. ‘With lower investment and change-over costs, Ford expects the new system to save the company up to $2 billion over the next decade.’

Unique Building Block System

The body shop assembly process is divided into a set of 16 distinct standardized modules, or cells, with each having a specific function. As few as several hundred components are needed to build all 16 cells. These cells are arranged to create subsystems, and these sub-systems then make up a body shop.

By mid-decade in North America, about half of Ford’s body shops, trim and final assembly operations will be flexible. That number rises to 75 percent by the end of the decade.

For example, one cell applies sealer or adhesives, two cells are different types of tool trays, three different cells handle welding, while a pallet cell moves the vehicle body along the assembly line. To illustrate a subsystem, several of these different functional cells are assembled to perform the bodyside welding process.

‘Just like having a set of building blocks, we’ve standardized the process so that only 300 components are needed to create all 16 cells, and these different cells are put together to make up the entire body shop,’ said Bill Russo, director, Advanced and Manufacturing Engineering. ‘That’s why the purchasing and operating efficiencies are so significant.’

Only a portion of the product-specific tooling on vertical trays, horizontal gates or on robot arms needs to be changed or modified, with the computers and robots re-programmed. Most of the equipment, such as the structure, robots, controls and utilities will remain to build the next product.

Dearborn Truck will be able to produce nine models all three platforms. The lines can be configured to accommodate front-wheel-drive, rear-wheel-drive, unitized body and body-on- frame vehicles.

Flexible Final Assembly Operations and Paint Shops

The same type of standardization found in the new body shops will be employed in final assembly. Final assembly operations will have a standard sequence, with standardized workstations that can be changed or modified quickly and easily to accommodate new vehicle options or features.

Ford will install new paint shops that will be able to handle a wider range of vehicles in a wider range of sizes. Traditionally, cars and trucks have required separate paint shops due to size.

Roll-out of Flexible Manufacturing

About half of Ford’s body shops, trim and final assembly operations will be flexible by mid-decade, with 75 percent flexible by the end of the decade. As the company introduces new products with significant changes, it will roll out flexible manufacturing at these North American assembly plants.

  • 2004 Ford F-Series ‘ Norfolk (Va.) Assembly Plant; Kansas City (Mo.) Assembly Plant and the Dearborn (Mich.) Truck Plant.
  • 2005 Ford Five Hundred and Ford Freestyle ‘ Chicago (Illinois) Assembly Plant.

Enabling Flexible Manufacturing with Fewer Vehicle Architectures

The keys to flexible manufacturing are common vehicle architectures and standardized manufacturing processes that can be changed easily for new products.

Common Architectures: The key enabler for flexible manufacturing is having common vehicle architectures. Vehicles go together the same way, with shared program engineering and shared components. Multiple vehicle segments ‘ cars, sport utility vehicles, vans, trucks or crossover vehicles ‘ can be built off the same architecture. Variability in body styles and sizes, chassis sizes and other differences are easily accommodated. Ford is planning to reduce the number of vehicle architectures globally.

Standardized Manufacturing: Standardized manufacturing systems have common assembly processes and components. The standardized system results in economies of scale in equipment purchases, reduced variety and inventory of spare parts and faster launch cycle. The company can shift production and parts to other plants if needed. It’s easier to implement employee training with a standard system. Plus, it’ll be easier to apply best practices throughout the company’s assembly operations.

‘With Ford’s new flexible manufacturing system, more than 80 percent of the tools and facilities will be reused,’ said Russo. ‘That will have a tremendous impact on cutting our costs and reducing downtime during product changeover.’

Examples of the benefits of standardization can be found on a welding robot. The number of weld gun bodies will be reduced from 262 to 35. The number of configurations of shunts, which carry electrical current between the weld body and the gun tips, will be reduced from 95 to five. This reduces repair time, spare parts and design costs.

‘Ford’s manufacturing operations have a strong legacy and a robust future,’ said Krygier. ‘The new flexible assembly system will provide a strong base for the company’s manufacturing strength in the decades to come.’

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