The Fiesta has been one of Ford’s best selling models in Europe ever since it went intro production in July, 1976, and until the advent of the Ka in 1996, it was the Blue Oval’s entry level model. During its 25-year history, the Fiesta has gone through many iterations, some, better than others, and it is currently undergoing another transformation prior to production starting at the end of November.
Important though it is to Ford, there is more to the new Fiesta than just being a revised model for it represents new thinking in the manufacturing processes with flexibility, pay-on-production, and a new supplier park all being vital ingredients.
One of the most important aspects in this new initiative is the establishment of the Cologne plant in Germany as the lead Fiesta plant. Until now, the model also used to be made in Dagenham, England, but following the rationalisation policy pushed through last year, the British plant is becoming Ford’s principal diesel engine center. The Valencia plant in Spain becomes the second production source for the new Fiesta, a back up should demand exceed supply out of Germany.
The Cologne plant has been the recipient of some substantial investment with new production facilities, a new supplier park, revised work arrangements, and modern logistics systems. More than $500 million is being invested in new presses, robots, and the development of new production processes. Around $225 million is being spent in an extensive renewal of the body plant and stamping facility. A further $60 million is going into the infrastructure of the new supplier park, which is linked to the main plant by a conveyor system. The paint shop is also being expanded with the dip tanks for pre-treating the bodies being enlarged and equipment for a new wax process being installed.
The plant also is further automated with the installation of another 698 robots. In addition to performing the welding, transport, bolting and adhesive work, they also will be sealing the hem-flanges on the inside of the doors with a sealer in the new body assembly system. They apply the adhesive to the doors before they are fitted to the bodies in the body assembly section. This sealing work is not normally carried out until the bodies reach the paint shop. Robots also apply an adhesive to the joints between the stamped parts.
The 11 laser-supported measuring robots that check the work of the automatic production machines are now integrated completely into the line instead of being on separate stations. The underbody is therefore automatically checked once finished, while the lasers detect any inconsistencies with tolerances of less than a tenth of a millimeter.
The five presses on the new Schuler stamping line produce 305 bodyside parts per hour on a 24-hour basis. With a maximum stamping force of 2,000 tonnes and extremely precise die cushions operated by hydraulic servos, the stamping line produces, among other things, the bodyside inner panel of the new Fiesta. With the emphasis on flexibility, the robots working between the individual presses change the pick-up tools when required. The changeover from one stamped part to the next is fully automatic and therefore particularly fast and precise.
In the new pay-on-production concept, equipment suppliers retain ownership of the machinery and are paid on a unit output basis. This close partnership, claims Ford, represents the first application of this risk-sharing principle in the automotive industry.
A total of 11 suppliers are located on the adjacent supplier park delivering modules such as instrument panels, or pre-fitted engines with transmission, front axle and suspension via a suspended electric rail over 800 metres long on a just-in-time basis.
The use of smart-card or so-called “call systems” for parts coming in from elsewhere reduce storage time at the assembly line from six hours to just two. With the smart-card system, as soon as the production workers open new batches, they place an order card in a special letterbox at the station in question. They are then collected and distributed to the in-house marketplaces that form the link between incoming freight deliveries and the production line. This ensures a constant supply of new material to the assembly line exactly matching requirements, and so ruling out unnecessary production delays.
The call system is designed for the supply of larger, heavier parts and the worker on the assembly line simply presses a button to order new material. The ideal moment for such an order is precisely defined in terms of a minimum number of parts that should always be stored at the line. The result is that at the exact moment when a worker fits the last part in a batch, a new one arrives on the production line.
There are 515 teams comprising six people who are responsible for organising and carrying out the assembly process, as well as parts orders, equipment maintenance, and quality controls. Apart from each team having workers with various specialised skills, which helps with devising innovative ideas or with problem-solving, it means that fluctuating workloads can usually be ironed out. Ford believes that a more cohesive force between team members can be achieved by a team of six than it would be in larger groups.
To ensure uniform quality over three shifts, the teams have standardised their work processes down to the last detail. On specially designed boards, the work groups record all the necessary assembly steps visually and in writing. All tasks and the exact location of all tools are described simply and clearly.
Ergonomic improvements have eliminated heavy physical labor from the factory floor. For example, robots automatically apply adhesives to the edges of the front and rear screens before inserting them. “Lazy arms” are used in the fitting of seats, fuel tanks, spare wheels, rear axles, batteries, front modules and doors. Mobile platforms move parallel to the production line and are height adjustable.
Training the work staff of 4,000 was a huge undertaking with a total of 180,000 hours at a cost of more than $16 million. Topics ranged from the most varied of technical training, such as robot operation and maintenance, to seminars designed to strengthen communication and problem-solving skills.
“Not a single job in the Fiesta production process will remain as it was,” says Hans Peter Sulser, Cologne’s operations manager. “Nearly all employees will be receiving completely new and more involved tasks.”
Product specialists have been carrying out virtual assembly since mid 2000, and more than 500 pre-series vehicles will be built by this fall. When production is fully ramped up the maximum daily capacity at the plant will reach 1,800 units a day, for an annual capacity of 405,000 units. This represents a 45% increase on previous production.
There is a great deal resting on the success of this small model for Ford. Not only is its future in Europe dependent on the Fiesta, but as a proving ground for new manufacturing ideas and processes, Cologne bears a great deal of responsibility.