A Reborn Ford Motor Co. Drives Toward 'Full Flexibility' - IndustryWeek
April 26, 2012
...When rising gas prices and crumbling economic conditions in 2007 and 2008 prompted consumers to flee SUVs and seek out fuel misers such as the Ford Focus, Tetreault admitted "it exposed a weakness not only for Ford but for other major automakers."
That weakness was the auto industry's traditional manufacturing model: each assembly plant dedicated to a single vehicle platform.
At Ford, under that strategy, it took up to four years to develop a new vehicle, at a cost of about $1 billion. Ramping up and retooling for a new model required at least six months of downtime.
"We could not quickly, efficiently and nimbly respond to the consumers' quickly changing wants and needs," Tetreault said. " ... We were significantly limited by our inflexibility. We were limited by mass production."
That became painfully obvious when production of the compact Focus in 2008 "went from 180,000 a year to 300,000 a year overnight," he added.
"I mean, in a very short period of time when gasoline went from $2.80 to $3.80, we increased Focus sales by over 60% in a couple of months," Tetreault said.
"We didn't have the vehicles. We weren't ready for it."
That was a finding-religion moment for Ford, though, and one that has been driving Ford's push toward what Tetreault called "full flexibility."
"And that means in the future we'll be able to build vehicles with an infinitely variable mix, with very little or no downtime -- and my mantra is none," he said. "I tell all of our directors and plant managers, 'We have to be able to introduce a car without shutting a plant down.' "...
...the most dramatic shifts toward flexible manufacturing have taken place in Ford's body shops, where the automaker is "headed toward what I like to call body-construction nirvana."
At least 80% of the robotic equipment in Ford's newly flexible body shops can be programmed to produce vehicles of any size and any configuration, Tetreault noted.
"This is significant because body construction has long been a limiting factor in the ability to add or change products in our facilities," he said.
" ... In plants where we did have some flexibility, where we produce a sedan and SUV, for example, if we were building 80% SUVs and 20% sedans, and sales and marketing said, 'Well, that's really nice guys, but we need 80% sedans and 20% SUVs,' it took us months to change all the tooling required to do that.
It was not flexible at all."...