Improving Efficiency Reduces Production Time

Dec. 1, 2006
Ford Michigan Truck Plant successfully implemented lean processes powered by a wireless network.

How do you introduce wireless technology and sophisticated material handling systems into a company with an 80-year old manufacturing process? Zone by zone and line by line. This is exactly how the Ford Michigan Truck Plant (MTP) did it at its Wayne, Mich. facility.

The plant had two goals: reduce vehicle production time and improve customer order-to-delivery time. "We also wanted to provide visibility along that cycle so our customers both dealer and retail, know what is going on with their vehicle," says Ted Thuis, Michigan Truck's business and process specialist for material handling.

With 2.9 million sq. ft. of floor space, the Michigan Truck Plant, which produces Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs, is the largest Ford assembly plant in Michigan. It manages more than 3,000 parts throughout its final assembly operations. MTP uses a planning tool called Plan for Every Part (PFEP). This process element pulls information from within various cross-functional organizations, allowing for a proactive approach to planning operator workstations within the production assembly lines to minimize operator walk time. It also assists in the planning of the inbound logistics, float planning and marketplace planning.

In order to remain flexible and competitive, MTP has incorporated advanced material handling practices and technologies that include first-in-first-out stock rotation (FIFO), WhereNet's (Santa Clara, Calif., www.wherenet .com) active-RFID-powered vehicle tracking and management system (VTMS), scrap tracking management system (STMS), IVEC maintenance systems for MTP's powered material handling vehicles (PMHV), and synchronous material flow processes using material pull triggers such as WhereNet's WhereCall wireless parts replenishment system and Auto-Call. Michigan Truck also uses in-line vehicle sequencing (ILVS) to deliver the exact quantities of material in the correct order to the production customers. Michigan Truck also has a comprehensive PMHV safety program.

Just-in-Time Parts

The plant receives just-in-time (JIT) parts from suppliers shipping ILVS material, supplier-direct truckloads, distribution centers or small-lot material. The small lot material (under 35 lbs per container) is picked and shipped hourly to the main building from an offsite material support center (MSC) operated by CEVA Logistics (Jacksonville, Fla., (www.cevalogistics. us). The shipments provide production operators with their own JIT service, allowing for minimum and maximum tip levels for material. MTP, when planning a job workstation, has operator buy-in on all aspects of that individual's job. There are roller racks placed at every job station with small lot deliveries that the operators can have adjusted to fit their particular need. Where job stations have pallet load deliveries, tilt and lift tables are provided for a more ergo-friendly environment. MTP also uses over and under line-feeding equipment to eliminate demand service jobs.

Parts are pulled to the line using wireless call buttons, supported by WhereNet and an Auto-Call system. Pallet load parts are pulled to the workstation by operators pushing call buttons which operate on Ford's SMART system which communicates with the WhereNet active RFID real-time locating system infrastructure throughout the building.

The SMART system tracks part number, the supplier, the number of parts per package, the usage per day, and the usage per job because there could be multiple lines. The database merges this information with WhereNet's technology. "When you put this magic together, we can generate pick lists for a process that tells the plant how many parts have to be pulled to the line, at what time and at what frequency. It drives all the way back to the logistics network that ties into it," explains Frank Mosquera, MTP material handling and logistics manager.

Small-lot material is delivered every hour on one of six delivery routes. Based on the actual bill of material (BOM) usage, each route is picked and shipped into the plant from the material supply chain. As vehicles roll down the assembly line they are scanned and the BOM data is collected and used to request material as needed through the Auto-Call system.

Optimizing Outbound Supply

MTP's innovative material handling processes continue after the vehicles are produced. MTP manages post-assembly verification and test processes, quality repair, containment and shipping zones.

By tracking and automatically recording the arrival, dwell, and departure time for each vehicle at every step of the process, VTMS generates constant location data as well as a historical record of the vehicle's progress through the off-line certification, repair and containment areas.

Integrated with MTP's quality management system, VTMS immediately detects quality-hold vehicles, preventing them from slipping into the delivery chain where rework costs at dealerships are five times higher than factory repairs.

During the 2007 launch planning, MTP used the VTMS system, which resulted in $1 million cost avoidance for tracking and controlling quality for finished vehicles 22 miles away from Ford's Wayne facility. This is the first time a Ford assembly plant has linked its quality and inventory management processes to an off site facility and successfully managed and shipped the inventory as if it was on Michigan Truck property.

WhereNet helped MTP develop a scrap tracking and management system to provide a real-time data system to relieve inventory that is suspect to the quality of parts used to assemble an Expedition or a Navigator.

Ford Michigan Truck Plant At a Glance

  • Age of company: 103
  • Years facility has been in operation: 49
  • Total square footage: 2.9 million sq. ft.
  • Days of operation week: 5; 2 production, 3 total shifts
  • Number of employees: 2,800