We watched trucks being built a couple of days ago, and enjoyed every minute of it.
The newest attraction of The Henry Ford (a curiously nounless name for the complex of museums which includes Greenfield Village) is a tour of the Rouge plant, one of the largest automotive manufacturing complexes ever built. After being completely redesigned and rebuilt, the Rouge plant will be devoted to the production of Ford F150 trucks.
This tour only opened on May 3, and has been wildly popular ever since, with good reason. We boarded a special bus at the entrance to Greenfield Village, and as we drove the fifteen minutes or so to the plant, on-board video narrative pointed out some of the components of the auto plant which date back to the 1930s -- a steel mill, power plants, the rebuilt overpass where company thugs set upon Walter Reuther at the beginning of the labor movement, a paint plant, and more. Henry Ford's idea was to make a completely self-contained environment for building his cars and trucks, and so, for example, he included a ship channel large enough for freighters bringing in iron ore and other components.
Inside the Visitor's center we entered the first theater and watched a movie showing the history of the Ford Motor Company; then we entered the second theater for a multi-media presentation of the future of automotive manufacturing -- the media here was designed to bring the viewer right into the process; on our swivel chairs we could about to see shots of different stages of auto-building, as the floor rumbled and *steam* shot out and we could smell the fresh molten metal. Dazzling!
Stop three was the upper floor of the Visitor Center, where we could gaze out upon the newly built plant which is designed to produce one F150 truck each minute when it is fully up and running. Environmentally friendly aspects include the plant roof planted with sedum which will capture rain runoff, cool the building by 10 degrees and even provide habitat for songbirds (two Canada geese strolled about as we watched). Skylights pop up here and there. An experimental process will attempt to capture fumes from the paint and turn them into fuel. An orchard and other plantings in the area are designed to remove harmful acids from the soil.
And all of these stops were preliminary to the best stop of all -- the assembly line. They are still training the assembly line workers in this highly automated plant, so the line moves much more slowly, and with more frequent interruptions than it will when the plant is in full operation. But this training period gives visitors the chance to amble slowly along the passage lining the walls of the assemly space, looking down at the workers.
Each unit -- cab or bed, travels on its own platform which includes a lift to raise the item to a good work height. There is enough room on the platform for two workers to move completely around the object.
We were particularly interested in seeing robot arms applying moon roofs and windshields, and observing the workers inserting door locks and inside panels on the truck doors. We saw one steering wheel set in. The trucks first are painted, then the doors are removed and travel along separately until, at the last stage, they are reunited with the cab. This gives the workers the easiest access to the interior and the engine compartment.
The wiring harnesses, like the door locks and the steering wheels, come assembled, wrapped in plastic with tags and color coding. All of these parts are trundled from the warehouse to the work station in large containers, continually replenished. Suppliers are held to specific delivery schedules to insure there are enough components, but not so many that they fill the available space. It's a living example of the Just-In-Time strategy for manufacturing we had been exposed to at work, but watching it from above is much more interesting!
Cameras were not allowed, so we have no visual aids to include with this report. The tour takes about a half-day and tickets must be reserved well in advance. We found this one of the most fascinating industrial tours we have taken, and recommend it to all.