Autobody News toured the factory near Dearborn, Michigan while attending the NACE show in July. During the tour, participants learned the history of Ford Motor Company, got a close-up look at vintage Ford vehicles made there over the years and viewed the assembly line where the Ford F-150 is constructed.
A rooftop observation deck offers a panoramic view of the entire mile and a half site, which also includes a paint house and living laboratory. Inside the half-a-million square foot assembly plant, 2,000 workers build the Ford F-150 during two 10-hour shifts. The factory was originally constructed in 1917 for $12 million and has been modernized over the years.
Referred to by Ford as “the best selling vehicle in America,” the Ford F-150 is the only vehicle built at the Rouche plant. An elevated walkway above the assembly line allows viewers to watch the steps involved in constructing the trucks. It takes six hours to build an F-150 and employees on the assembly line are allotted about 54 seconds to put on the new parts. Each truck is special ordered and pre-paid before even being built.
There are over 500,000 different possibilities that can be ordered, including 14 colors, different engines, tires, suspensions and consoles.
“There is a backlog because so many orders are coming in,” said one of the tour guides. “While they can build 600 of these in a 10-hour shift, there are 700 being ordered at the time they are building the 600. It’s a good problem to have. There’s a lot of job security here.”
Every single one is inspected and goes for a test run on the test track. After being been cleared, 60 percent are shipped by road and 40 percent by rail.
It all started when Henry Ford began tinkering in a small shed behind number 58 Bagley Avenue in Michigan. Ford was the chief engineer at the local power plant and was determined to make a reliable car that everybody could afford. In 1903, he founded Ford Motor Company in a small factory. Five years later he introduced the Model T. Known as the “Tin Lizzy,” the automobile could handle the rough roads of the day and didn’t break down unlike other companies back then. It took a crew around 12 hours to assemble each one.
Ford realized that he needed to find a way to manufacture more while maintaining quality. In Cincinnati, meat packers worked standing in line, each of them in charge of a specific job. Other factories, like textile plants, used simple conveyor systems. Studying these businesses, Ford experimented with the idea of using an assembly line at his own factory.
“Instead of moving the man to the work, he brought the work to the man,” according to a video shown at the plant. “With his moving assembly line, Henry revolutionized the manufacturing process.”
By 1915, the model T could be assembled in 93 minutes at Ford’s Highland Park plant. His workforce grew from 450 to 14,000. Today, Ford Motor Company manufacturers or distributes automobiles across six continents with about 187,000 employees and 62 plants worldwide.
The company’s automotive brands include Ford and Lincoln. More information about the Ford tour is available online: http://www.thehenryford.org/rouge/index.aspx