With 35 plants in operation around the world, car-maker Ford is doubling the number of models it can make on each production line from three to seven.
Led by the American company’s nine new plants in Asia, its biggest manufacturing investment in 50 years, Peter Daenan, manufacturing engineering chief for Ford South America, explains that new Ford sites will be “less asset intensive” so that fewer machines and lines will be required to make the same amount of vehicles.
“We want to move away from having non flexible lines with three typical models and move to a much higher level of flexibility,” he said at the Rockwell Automation Fair in Philadelphia, USA.
With up to 20% undercapacity in Europe but strong sales in the North America, Daenan states: “We need to reduce investment costs for each new vehicle. We’ve reduced investment by about 50% for new vehicles through global benchmarking and supplier partnerships and will be able to leverage that to reduce costs by 8% a year until 2015.”
Ford are fitting more capable tooling systems so that new models become cheaper as less alterations will need to be made to the manufacturing line, which also saves time.
Ford is looking to use its global positioning to create factory clones, which means that production can be moved or altered to suit demand.
In order to get seven model derivatives off of one line, allowing both cars and vans to be made on the same lines.
The company is flexing its body shop to boost non vehicle specific tooling from 55% to 65% but finding best practice to align process is essential to doing this.
The company has set up manufacturing design specifications and a global bill of process to align its manufacturing and shape how things are made to cut costs.
“We have been expanding our use of virtual tools to assess the way we build vehicles. By studying best way to install a seat into vehicle and other process, we can access potential accidents without being on the line and involving operators,” said Mr Daenan. Ford has already reduced build issues by 90% on new lines as a result.
“This defines for design guys how we will produce the vehicle and limits what they can do so that we can change and run different models down the same line,” he explains.
Deanan denies that this will mean the shrinking of its manufacturing footprint but it seems inevitable in the long-term.
Despite closing its Transit manufacturing factory in Southampton, UK, last month and shedding 1,400 jobs across its UK operations – it seems likely that added flexibility will not be the cause of job losses in Europe as it is not ripping out and replacing less flexible tooling and lines in the UK and elsewhere due to the high cost of doing so.
If job losses continue after Ford’s already announced restructuring of its European operation it will be down to low sales.
However, with its new factories in Asia set to become more efficient than its European operations as they adopt best practice from Ford’s US and European sites, the axis of the company’s manufacturing looks set to swing east with its nine new sites the first to adopt its global growth plan.