Day Two – Ford Rouge Plant
I began my tour of Detroit with a visit to the Ford manufacturing plant in Dearborn. I decided that it would be beneficial to visit the factory and view the current state of automobile manufacturing. I took a tour of the Ford F-150 truck assembly plant at the Rouge complex. This building was only a speck on the map in what is an extensive manufacturing giant. This building is known for its green roof, which is considered the largest in the world. The plant was showcasing its “green” initiatives quite extensively. William McDonough worked with Ford in 1999 to restore the factory and grounds as well as improve the grounds, buildings, and operation through sustainable measures. This was most evident at the observation deck which overlooked the plant.
The plant operations are a well-oiled machine and the way these vehicles come together is amazing. All of the operations of the plant work together in a symbiotic relationship. One hiccup in the line affects everyone. As a matter of fact, at one point we witnessed a snafu in the line when a tailgate would not fit properly in the truck bed, shutting the line down while the unit was adjusted. The portion of the manufacturing process we saw was only a small area of the entire process. The rich history of Ford was amazing, and witnessing the manufacturing process was truly a sight I never imagined. The tour also included a few videos on the history of Ford, and the transformations that have occurred over the generations of these vehicles.
As I walked around the plant and watched the employees in action, their movements almost effortless, I began to wonder what it would be like to work in one of these plants. You are stationed at a position in the manufacturing line and are tasked with doing a particular job for the entire day. Your job may be to put a piece of trim on a door and then add the side mirror casing to the door before it heads to the next station to receive the door speakers and mirror glass. You do this task all day, other than your 30 minute lunch break. I am sure that you are moved around to various stations in order to break up the monotony, but you are still completing a similar task day in and day out. I believe you would have to have patience to complete this work year round.
What are these employees thinking as they are completing their work? Are they considering different ways to complete the work? Do they go home at night and draw up their own designs for the next great vehicle? Or do they worry about a robot taking their job? Surprisingly, there were very little robotics involved in the process of putting these cars together. A pair of robots put the windshield on, only because of the precision that is required in this process. Additionally, they aid in painting as well as checking the quality of the vehicle. Other than that, all other actions are completely by human hands. At this plant, one vehicle is completed every minute. They produce enough cars in one year, just at this plant, to stretch bumper to bumper from Detroit to New York City. Wow.
Do Ford and the other car companies have any idea the possible creativity that lies within its employees? How much would the company change if its employees were a part of the incubation process, contributing ideas, inventing the future and delivering innovative thinking that progresses the business? An incubator process is designed to do just this and it is welcoming to all, no matter the skill level.