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Ford retools Michigan plant; gas, hybrid and electric on same line

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Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant is the first facility in the world capable of building gas-powered, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the same production line.

Ford on Thursday announced that its Michigan Assembly Plant would be the first facility in the world capable of building gas-powered, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles on the same production line.

The 54-year-old plant, which will be responsible for producing the new high-mileage (40 m.p.g.) but gasoline-powered Focus, benefitted from a $550 million overhaul that includes funds from the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. (Nissan, Tesla, Fisker and VPG also participate.)

The factory's flexible manufacturing system allows Ford to build multiple models on multiple platforms in the same facility. On deck for the plant: the Focus Electric zero-emission battery electric vehicle, later this year; as well as the new C-MAX Hybrid and C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid in 2012.

Specifically, this is possible thanks to reprogrammable robotic tooling in the body shop, standardized equipment in the paint shop and a common-build sequence in final assembly.

Fast facts:

  • In the body shop, at least 80 percent of the plant's robotic equipment can be programmed to weld various-sized vehicles.
  • Integrated stamping allows the stamping and welding of all large sheet-metal parts on-site, reducing overhead.
  • An efficient, synchronous material flow ensures that parts and other components move in kits to each operator. The idea: provide employees with the tools they need in the sequence they will need them.
  • The plant is also the first U.S. plant to commercially use a three-wet paint application, which means the car is only baked once. Ford says this will save it about $3 million in production in natural gas and electricity.

The facility's optimization is also an environmental benefit, Ford says. The three-wet paint process, for example, produces 6,000 metric tons fewer cabon emissions per year compared to waterborne systems and 8,000 metric tons fewer carbon emissions per year compared to conventional high-solvent-borne systems.

Naturally, the facility also touts one of the largest solar power generation systems in the state, which Ford estimates to be an annual energy savings of $160,000.

You might just say that building the efficient Focus just might have helped Ford focus on efficiency in its own operations.

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Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure