Ford invests $1bn in transforming its Chicago plants
Ford Motor Company is investing $1bn in its Chicago Assembly and Stamping Plants. The investment will enable the addition of 500 new positions as the business seeks to launch three new SUVs this year. The US is slowly moving away from cars and have are increasingly favouring SUV and pickup trucks, according to recent statistics.
The transformation of the plants will commence in March. Expanding its present capacity will see the business gain the ability to manufacture the new Ford Explorer – including the Explorer ST and Explorer Hybrid – the all-new Police Interceptor Utility and the all-new Lincoln Aviator. The additional 500 jobs will bring the total number of roles at the two plants to approximately 5,800.
Set to build an updated body shop and paint shop at Chicago Assembly, as well as major modifications to the final assembly area will bring a number of advantages to the business. At Chicago Stamping, Ford is adding all-new stamping lines in preparation for the 2020 Ford Explorer, Police Interceptor Utility and Lincoln Aviator. Advanced manufacturing technologies include a collaborative robot with a camera that inspects electrical connections during the manufacturing process. In addition, several 3D printed tools will be installed to help employees build these vehicles with even higher quality for customers.
The production of three new SUVs will add to Ford’s output in the United States. Ford was the No. 1 producer of vehicles in the US and the leading exporter of vehicles from the US, building nearly 2.4mn in 2018.
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“We are proud to be America’s top producer of automobiles. Today, we are furthering our commitment to America with this billion-dollar manufacturing investment,” said Joe Hinrichs, President, Global Operations. “We reinvented the Explorer from the ground up, and this investment will further strengthen Ford’s SUV market leadership.”
In addition to overhauling its manufacturing capabilities, employee-related improvements total $40mn and include all-new LED lighting, cafeteria updates, new break areas, and security upgrades in the parking lot. The company’s investment is supported by Ford’s strong partnership with the UAW, along with federal, state, county and local government.
“As Chicago continues to strengthen our diverse economy, Ford’s commitment to infuse nearly a billion dollars into their Southeast Side assembly plant is a vote of confidence in our people and our future,” commented Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “The assembly plant is a local and regional economic engine where iconic American brands like the Lincoln Aviator and Ford Explorer are built. This investment is a testament to the strength and vibrancy of Chicago’s manufacturing sector, and I look forward to Ford’s presence in our city for generations to come."
Chicago Assembly, located on the city’s south side, is Ford’s longest continually operating vehicle assembly plan. The factory started producing the Model T in 1924 and was converted to war production during World War II.
Gartner: Leaders Lack Skilled Smart Manufacturing Workers
With organisations rapidly adopting industry 4.0 capabilities to increase productivity, efficiency, transparency, and quality as well as reduce cost, manufacturers “are under pressure to bring their workforce into the 21st century,” says Gartner.
While more connected factory workers are leveraging digital tools and data management techniques to improve decision accuracy, increase knowledge and lessen variability, 57% of manufacturing leaders feel that their organisations lack the skilled workers needed to support their smart manufacturing digitalisation plans.
“Our survey revealed that manufacturers are currently going through a difficult phase in their digitisation journey toward smart manufacturing,” said Simon Jacobson, Vice President analyst, Gartner Supply Chain practice.
“They accept that changing from a break-fix mentality and culture to a data-driven workforce is a must. However, intuition, efficiency and engagement cannot be sacrificed. New workers might be tech-savvy but lack access to best practices and know-how — and tenured workers might have the knowledge, but not the digital skills. A truly connected factory worker in a smart manufacturing environment needs both.”
Surveying 439 respondents from North America, Western Europe and APAC, Gartner found that “organisational complexity, integration and process reengineering are the most prevalent challenges for executing smart manufacturing initiatives.” Combined they represent “the largest change management obstacle [for manufacturers],” adds Gartner.
“It’s interesting to see that leadership commitment is frequently cited as not being a challenge. Across all respondents, 83% agree that their leadership understands and accepts the need to invest in smart manufacturing. However, it does not reflect whether or not the majority of leaders understand the magnitude of change in front of them – regarding technology, as well as talent,” added Jacobson.
Technology and People
While the value and opportunities smart manufacturing can provide an organisation is being recognised, introducing technology alone isn’t enough. Gartner emphasises the importance of evolving factory workers alongside the technology, ensuring that they are on board in order for the change to be successful.
“The most immediate action is for organisations to realize that this is more than digitisation. It requires synchronising activities for capability building, capability enablement and empowering people. Taking a ‘how to improve a day in the life’ approach will increase engagement, continuous learning and ultimately foster a pull-based approach that will attract tenured workers. They are the best points of contact to identify the best starting points for automation and the required data and digital tools for better decision-making,” said Jacobson.
Long term, “it is important to establish a data-driven culture in manufacturing operations that is rooted in governance and training - without stifling employee creativity and ingenuity,” concluded Gartner.