DETROIT -- Ford Motor Co.'s conversion of its 2.6-million-square-foot Dearborn, Mich., truck factory to build the aluminum-body 2015 F-150 pickup has altered the look of the assembly plant, body shop and adjoining stamping operations.
Ford spent $359 million to convert the truck plant and an additional $484 million to convert nearby stamping and diversified operations on the site. The process took about 10 weeks. The new trucks will begin arriving in dealerships in December.
The plant, with 4.2 miles of conveyors, has been reinvented for the 21st century. Now that Ford is assembling the aluminum body using rivets, industrial adhesive and screws instead of welding it together, the body shop seems much more open and airy.
And, while the plant is not exactly a library, it's much quieter because the noisy sizzle and pop of steel welding is absent. There are no sparks flying through the air to burn holes in clothing.
"When the hourly workers first walked in, they couldn't believe how quiet and clean it was," says Ron Ketelhut, chief engineer for body construction at the plant.
New yellow robots, mostly from Fanuc America Corp., hang from huge rails overhead, replacing the old floor-mounted robots. That means the entire assembly process is much more visible. Gone are most of the huge cages that used to surround the welding stations. The robots themselves are drastically smaller and lighter than the machines they replaced.
The lightness of the aluminum parts has another benefit for line workers. They no longer need mechanical assistance to lift parts into place.
"It's just great for the operators," Ketelhut said. "They love it."
Once Dearborn gets up to full speed, Ford will go through the process again, rebuilding its Kansas City, Mo., assembly plant to aluminum F-150 production. That process begins in January.