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“This is an old plant,” says Miro F. Suga, director, Stamping Business Unit, Vehicle Operations, Ford Motor Company. He’s talking about the Dearborn Stamping Plant, which is on the property that’s known as the Rouge Complex, a series of facilities that is essentially being focused on the Dearborn Truck Plant, one of the operations that is producing the important F-150 pickup. He’s talking about a stamping plant that was brought on line in 1936. He’s talking about a place where some 1,300 people are involved in producing body and underbody panels, in transforming some 600 tons of steel into parts and assemblies. He’s talking about a place where there’s actually two floors—including presses on the upper floor and assembly in the basement. He’s talking about a place where a decision was made to renew and to revitalize, as part of the transformation of the entire Rouge facility.
“We wanted to use the plant because there are good people here.”
A focus at the plant is production of doors and hoods for the F-150. Because Dearborn Truck is bringing the truck into production later than other plants in the Ford system, Dearborn Stamping’s initial customers are the Norfolk and Kansas City truck facilities.
There are really two parts to this transformation. One is a new five-station crossbar transfer press from Schuler Inc. (Canton, MI). The other is a series of 11 subassembly lines (10 for doors, one for hoods) that was engineered by Valiant Welding & Assembly Systems (Windsor, Ontario).
Speaking of the press, plant manager Frank Piazza explains that the unit, which has a 4,500 x 2,600-mm bed size, will be running at least double attached parts so as to improve productivity. As mentioned, the press is on the main floor of the plant. Blanks (they’re using them rather than coil because door inners are made with tailor-welded blanks) are brought up from a market area in the basement by a self-guided vehicle based on a call system. The blanks are removed with a forklift and placed on a cart, from which the press is fed. When the parts are finished, and they are running at a rate of over 700 per hour, there is an elevator system that holds racks. The racks are filled by the press, and then sent back down to the basement, where they are unloaded via automated-guided vehicles. Piazza said that because worker safety is a paramount consideration, a decision was made to have that arrangement for finished parts rather than having fork lifts moving around where most of the workers are located at the press site.
“It will take us 7 to 12 minutes to change a die,” he points out, adding, “The process works like it is supposed to: all of the preparation for die change is done outside the press.” To facilitate die changes, not only are there specific locations on the plant floor for die sets, but all of the die sets are color-coded so that it is easy to determine that everything is in place for changeover. Piazza says that when they were setting up the work area, the staff was asked a simple question: “If you could do it the right way, what would you do?” And as this was part of a renewal program, they had the opportunity to get it right.
The Ford F-Series has been the best selling full-size truck for the past 26 years and the best-selling vehicle in America for the last 21. The 2004 model comes in assorted versions and trim levels, including the Regular Cab, SuperCab, and SuperCrew. All of which means that at Dearborn Stamping, they’ve got 10 different subassemblies for five different door types. When setting up the lines, Suga says, they realized that they wouldn’t necessarily know the mix of vehicles that would be demanded by the consumers, so they deliberately created each of the lines with a series of modules. Consequently, there is the ability to reconfigure the lines in a manner that’s much more efficient than had traditionally been the case: “These are captive lines,” Suga says, “but they’re convertible.” Piazza explains that whereas in the past it would take as long as six or seven months to make a line change, it can now be done in as few as three weeks. “We’re being customer responsive,” Suga remarks.
Dearborn Stamping may be an old building. Dearborn Stamping people may have plenty of experience. But that old building is being renewed. And that experience is being put to good use.