100% Wireless Ford Plant To Open

Ford Motor Co.'s state-of-the-art F-150 truck-assembly facility, expected to be operational by summer and running at full capacity by year's end, is a body shop and final staging area where

April 26, 2004

2 Min Read
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Ford Motor Co. has long prided itself on innovation. So when the automaker set out to build a new assembly plant at its historic compound on the banks of the River Rouge in Dearborn, Mich., it decided to go full speed.

The state-of-the-art F-150 truck-assembly facility, expected to be operational by summer and running at full capacity by year's end, is a body shop and final staging area where trucks are assembled and prepped before being shipped to dealers. It's also Ford's first completely wireless assembly factory.

Unique to the facility is the flexible body shop, automated-materials-replenishment system, GigaMan Ethernet infrastructure, RF Ethernet, self-adjusting platforms at each bay station, and software-driven systems that monitor maintenance for tooling, conveyers, robots, and other machines. "These systems detect and record system faults and variances in cycle times and throughputs," says George Herman, vehicle operations IT manager-assembly.

The flexible body shop is completely automated. As vehicles on platforms move through the assembly plant, software programmed into the conveyer system automatically raises and lowers them, depending on the model and the function the operator will carry out at the workstation.

"The technology Ford has implemented at its new Dearborn plant is advanced for the automotive industry," says Bruce Hudson, program director of enterprise applications at Meta Group, adding that Ford's plants "range from Flintstone to cutting edge." BMW has two wireless plants in Europe and is setting up another in the United States, Hudson says.The wireless infrastructure Ford is deploying for parts replenishment and vehicle tracking comes from WhereNet Corp. Inventory replenishment is driven by Ford's Auto Call, part of its synchronous material-replenishment trigger system, with assistance from about 58 antennas around the compound. Replenishment signals are triggered wirelessly as vehicles pass over a radio-frequency reader mounted in the floor, indicating what parts are required on the assembly line.

WhereNet also enables SmartEye, Ford's method to identify and track vehicles with a metal bar code cut into each vehicle's conveyer, which carries the vehicle through the assembly plant. This bar code uniquely identifies the vehicle as it passes through a set of readers. The information gathered by the readers is transmitted wirelessly to a database to compare with the customer order. "Through the quality-control process, as vehicles arrive at each test station, the technology enables operators to easily detect quality concerns," Herman says. The system also monitors the exact options each vehicle should have.

The new assembly plant isn't the only facility Ford is outfitting with innovative technology. Braintech Inc., which manufactures 3-D-vision-guided robotics, revealed last week that the automaker has placed an order for a Braintech system it will use to manufacture automotive transmissions. This summer, Braintech will install the robotics at Ford's automatic-transmission operations facility in Livonia, Mich. Other Braintech systems are operating at, or ordered for, the automaker's power-train and engine-casting plants.

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