Ford’s electric drive reinvents the historic Michigan factory

Construction crews have returned to Dearborn, redoing Ford’s century-old industrial complex once again, this time for a post-oil era that is finally starting to seem possible.

The main mission of the production operation in recent times has been to assemble the best-selling F-150, a gasoline-powered vehicle.

The truck plant churns out a new pickup truck every 53 seconds in a well-oiled process that will continue for the foreseeable future.

But in September 2020, Ford started a smaller facility on nearby land, commissioning the new operation to build an electric battery cousin to the F-150 internal combustion engine (ICE).

The F-150 Lightning is part of a growing fleet of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) hitting the streets of established automakers and newcomers.

At last week’s Detroit Auto Show, President Joe Biden proclaimed that “America’s great road trip will be fully electrified.”

After amassing nearly 200,000 bookings for the Lightning, Ford has announced expansions to quadruple production over the next year.

Will there be a tipping point where Lightning could overtake the ICE model? This is a question on the minds of officials at Ford and rival Detroit automakers who are investing billions of dollars in BEVs as they continue to produce millions of ICE vehicles.

“The industry is changing so rapidly, I don’t think anyone has a good forecast of where it will be,” Ford’s Chris Skaggs told AFP.

“But we’re reacting and getting the right resources to build batteries and scale so we can meet whatever demand is,” said Skaggs, a veteran Ford operations manager who is leading the expansion of the BEV plant.

“I’ve been doing this for 29 years and thought I’d retire before I even got to this point.”

– Story told –

The Lightning marks the latest reinvention of the Dearborn Rouge industrial complex south of Detroit near the River Rouge.

The Rouge factory was built between 1917 and 1928 and originally designed to encompass all components in automobile manufacturing, including tire manufacturing, vehicle assembly, steel manufacturing, and engine building.

The peak in occupancy surpassed 100,000 in the 1930s, a decade that also saw visits by artist Diego Rivera for his famous car worker murals.

The complex was commissioned to build Allied World War II fighter jet engines before assembling iconic Ford vehicles such as the Thunderbird and Mustang, which launched in the 1960s and is now assembled at another factory in the Michigan.

The Rouge site – long emblematic of the moving assembly line that changed manufacturing history – began to look like a white elephant as Ford streamlined later in the twentieth century and pollution made it a brownfield site.

But William Clay Ford Jr., Henry Ford’s great-grandson, refused to close it, authorizing a $ 2 billion upgrade soon after he became president in 1999.

The Dearborn Truck plant opened in 2004 after extensive environmental remediation and the installation of a “living roof” to make heating and cooling more efficient.

– “Flexible” capacity –

The younger Ford, who identified Rouge as “our legacy,” faced a pushback on the Dearborn investment internally, which coincided with a difficult financial period.

But it would be hard to find fault with the stamina of the F-150, which was the best-selling vehicle in the United States for four decades.

Three shifts populate the Dearborn truck assembly plant, which employs 4,500 people, working around the clock.

The vehicle assembly process begins when the aluminum coils are stamped into the panels on site. The panels are assembled at the body shop and then painted before reaching the assembly line.

The truck then proceeds through hundreds of workstations where the engine and other components are installed, and is then subjected to tests including wheel and headlight alignment, camera-based inspections, and electronic computer controls first. of the shipment to the customer.

Ford does not release data on daily production, but each vehicle is assembled within hours once it arrives at the factory, Skaggs said.

In contrast to the ICE truck factory, which makes noise with business, the BEV facility operates with a modest hum, a quality due in part to the company’s focus on ergonomics.

The BEV assembly process is also organized around production lines, but there are fewer workstations in an operation that is still preparing for bigger things. The Rouge Electric Vehicle Center currently employs approximately 500 people.

The expansion will double the size of the BEV factory and add more workers and workstations, bringing production to 150,000 per year by next fall, Skaggs said.

But the added productivity will be “flexible,” Skaggs said, meaning it could be used for ICE or BEV depending on demand.

“If we don’t call it right, we can build more ICE units … or if BEV really takes off as we all expect, we can scale it.”

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