TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co. is sending teams of engineers and assembly line workers into supplier plants to smooth product launches and reduce errors.
The move is the next phase in a program that gets input from experienced line workers in the early stages of a product design program, said Jim Tetreault, director of manufacturing for Fords North American Operations.
Fords Powertrain Division is using the strategy with suppliers as it prepares for new launches, Tetreault said Tuesday in an interview at the Management Briefing Seminars. The tactic will also be used as Ford prepares its Oakville, Ontario, assembly plant to build new sport wagons next year – a replacement for the Lincoln Navigator and a version for the Ford division.
About 30 assembly line workers from Oakville are already working with engineers in Dearborn, Tetreault said.
Stationing engineers at suppliers plants is a strategy that has been used for several years by Japanese automakers to find and fix problems before vehicle production is started. Mercedes-Benz also used the strategy last year as it prepared to launch production of the second-generation M class in Vance, Ala.
Fords workers are using computer simulations and prototypes to help engineers refine assembly line procedures. When a problem is flagged, the line worker has to agree that the fix is acceptable for the issue to be closed, Tetreault said.
The key, Tetreault said, is to pick the right type of line worker. You have to get people who have a lot of experience and who are not intimidated by engineers, he said.
Even with the cooperation, issues still arise.
After Ford launched production of the Ford Five Hundred and other vehicles at its Chicago assembly plant and a nearby supplier park last year, it gathered all the suppliers and asked what lessons had been learned. It got 350 suggestions.
Their challenge is getting information from workers and suppliers and not having them fear retribution, Tetreault said. Honestly, we caused a fair amount of issues ourselves. So we need to find out how do we do better when a problem has been identified.
As a result, Ford earlier this year spent three days meeting with suppliers in Hermosillo, Mexico, to prepare for this falls launch of the Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr sedans.
Tetreault said: There is a fine line between cooperation and interference.
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