We were shuttled from the museum to the Rouge Ford Factory, where F-150 trucks are assembled. A broad observation ramp above and around the production line enabled us and group after group of schoolchildren to watch the many, many phases and operations involved. No, we didn’t finish with an in-depth understanding of how these trucks are assembled, but we did leave with an appreciation for the amount of work and material that goes into this collaboration of people and robots.
This was very different from the RV factories we had visited in Elkhart. The action there had been much slower. Materials were mechanically moved and delivered to and assembled at various locations, but much of the movement of completed stages of the vehicle had to be done manually or in separate operations (not one continuous production line) from one area of the factory to another. Here at Ford the unfinished vehicles lined up on the ever-moving belt were transported from one set of workers to another for each specific operation. However, some manual transport of materials was still necessary, with parts-filled trucks shuttling down the aisles between production lines to keep the workers (and robots) supplied.
It’s interesting to note that assemblers usually work in groups of four, each knowing four different operations, so they can trade off at specified times and not perform the same single repetitive task all day long. Some operations seemed to require a specific worker to insert one certain screw in one certain spot. Others were more involved, requiring all four members of each team to work interactively. In still other cases one person appeared to be performing a number of functions.
It was all fascinating, but the insertion of windows and windshield particularly held my attention. The rear and side windows were brought through the windshield aperture with a mechanical arm and then fixed in place by humans. When they were through, the frame advanced, a robot lifted and inserted the windshield, and the truck was transported on to the next operation.
As for being handicapped friendly, you can’t beat it. You could proceed at your own pace, lean on and over the railing to watch operations, sit for a few minutes if tired. The only hazard was an occasional darting school kid, oblivious to his surroundings and headed for his own specific destination, but the groups in general were very considerate.
One can’t help but admire the vision of one man who conceived and realized the practicality of production lines.