Today’s manufacturing technology and the products rolling off the assembly line are more complex than ever. At the same time, customer expectations for product quality and reliability are higher than ever. That’s why the team at the transformed Louisville Assembly Plant (LAP) is committed to achieving top-notch quality levels from the time the very first all-new 2013 Ford Escape is produced.
Following more than two decades as the home of the body-on-frame Ford Explorer, the 3.2-million-square-foot Louisville plant was cleared for installation of one of the most advanced flexible assembly lines in the world. Now, the transformed LAP is equipped with the most modern, electric tools in the industry that are much quieter and more reliable than older pneumatic models. Electric tools also provide more consistent results during even simple tasks, such as tightening nuts and bolts.
Preparing the workforce through proper training to build vehicles using these new state-of-the-art tools and techniques is critical to the plant’s success.
“Whether they are Ford veterans or new hires, we want every member of the production team to be fully prepared to build world-class vehicles from day one,” said John Savona, Louisville Assembly plant manager. “That’s why each team member will spend at least 40 hours in our state-of-the-art training facility before they can build a single 2013 Escape on the line.”
A veteran leader of five other Ford factories, Savona and his teams developed the simulated factory concept at three other plants over the past decade. The version implemented in Louisville is the most advanced yet, with eight different workstations where up to 60 people can train at once for a full eight hours.
Initially, team members spend several days learning about the plant’s new tools and operating processes, including quality and safety procedures. Once they move into the simulation area, trainees practice representative operations on a workbench using what is known as a breadboard, as well as by working on an actual Escape model. Training for members of United Auto Workers Local 862 began in the simulated factory facility last fall.
“In the simulated factory, team members use the same types of tools they will use in production for similar operations,” said Vaughn Harbin, LAP training and development leader. “They also practice the types of operations that tend to be most problematic in production, such as connecting brake lines and fitting weather stripping.”
While practicing with real tools in a classroom environment is important, it also is critical for every employee on the assembly line to remember they are part of a much larger production team consisting of more than 1,000 people at a time. In order to keep the line running smoothly and efficiently, each team member must perform his or her job within a prescribed amount of time. The hands-on training employees receive in LAP also takes timing into consideration.
“The LAP simulated factory is the first one to feature a visual indicator for the line cycle time so that trainees can get used to how quickly the real line will move,” said Savona. “Ten Model Ts run on a belt above the test stands on the simulator line. As the Model T moves into the operator’s zone, they can see at a glance how much time they have to complete their task.”
In addition to training operators who work on the assembly line, the LAP training facility also provides a hands-on experience for the electricians, millwrights and pipe-fitters who keep all of the equipment in proper working order. The training center gives the skilled-trades staff an opportunity to service the same type of tools, robots and transfer equipment found on the factory floor.
Since the original Escape debuted more than a decade ago, it has consistently been one of the best-selling vehicles in the Ford lineup. The team at Louisville Assembly Plant is committed to making the next-generation model a winner from its production start with world-class quality that matches the sleek styling and outstanding fuel efficiency customers are sure to appreciate.
LAP will kick off Escape production later this month with two shifts before eventually adding a third crew later this year. On three crews at full line speed, LAP will have approximately 4,200 hourly employees, including 400 skilled-trades staff, building the new Escape. The team will be comprised of a mix of veterans from the Louisville plant, transfers from 36 other Ford factories and new hires.