Q&A: Focus benefits from Saarlouis upgrade

Key car's launch costs were even lower than expected; German plant becomes a role model for production efficiency

Saarlouis, Germany. Ford of Europe has made huge investments in its European plants during the past few years. Using the second-generation Focus as an example, Albert Lidauer, Ford chief of production in Europe, discussed the initial successes the carmaker has gained through its new manufacturing techniques when he met with Automobilwoche's Gerhard Mauerer.

The new Ford Focus has been manufactured at the Saarlouis, Germany, plant since July. Are you satisfied with the start-up for this important model?

Very satisfied. It was our aim to set new quality standards with the Focus. We are manufacturing a car that is a very good value for the money and at the same time its quality by far exceeds the standard within its category. The start-up curve went exactly as we planned. Launch costs were even lower than expected.

What did you do differently compared with previous launches?

We established so called "gates" at the key points within the development phase that the new product could only pass once it reached a very high level of maturity.

Other manufacturers also do that.

Of course. But, it takes more than just establishing certain processes. They also need to be followed through consistently.

What the other innovations contributed to the Focus' quality?

We tackled each recurring problem immediately and solved it. The newly introduced "tip-level" also helps to detect problems.

What is that?

The term "tip-level" describes the early detection of recurring production problems. Once a certain limit has been reached, the problems must be solved on the spot before further units are manufactured.

Are there any more innovations?

Two examples: First, we kept all finished vehicles at the plant for five days during start-up, just in case we spotted any faults during further production. Therefore, whenever we noticed something wrong, we were able to optimize all the products immediately. Second, the start-up curve for the new Focus was different compared with previous models. It was a "plateau start-up." That means it was an early start-up but the number of vehicles manufactured each day was kept to a very low level. At the same time, the first-generation Focus was produced at full capacity. The advantage was that we could spot most problems during this "plateau phase" and we could solve them without much volume pressure. With a steep start-up curve, there is pressure to manufacture high volumes at an early stage. Necessary corrections cannot be made on the production line due to a lack of time.

When it comes to production, is Saarlouis leading the way?

Definitely! Worldwide all future model start-ups at Ford will follow the principles that have been developed here. Saarlouis is also top class in regard to efficiency. A recent international survey showed that Saarlouis is one of Europe's most productive car plants.

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