Ford’s Chicago plant gets a $1 billion upgrade

Ford’s Chicago plant gets a $1 billion upgrade
Robert Channick, Chicago TribunePublished 9:30 p.m. ET June 30, 2019

Rodney Washington, Ford employee, works on the door line in the all-new body shop at Chicago Assembly Plant.
Ford unveiled its retooled Chicago Assembly Plant last week, a $1 billion transformation that features a host of new amenities for workers, and an army of new robots to help them build vehicles.
The massive project, which shut down the Torrence Avenue plant on Chicago’s Southeast Side for 30 days in March, is complete. Ford’s oldest plant in continuous operation is now churning out the new 2020 Ford Explorer, Lincoln Aviator and Police Interceptor SUVs.
The investment also brought upgrades to Ford’s nearby stamping plant.
The Chicago plant, which made the Model T when it opened in 1924, phased out production of the Taurus sedan last year to focus exclusively on building all-new SUVs.
Here’s a look at the retooled Ford plant by the numbers:
• 4,800 employees: There are 4,800 hourly employees at the assembly plant, including 500 new hires. Another 1,100 hourly employees work at Ford’s nearby stamping plant in Chicago Heights. At full capacity, three crews operate the assembly plant seven days a week.
• 850 robots: 850 robots work side-by-side with employees at the plant, about 300 more than last year, plant manager Jim DeMartino said during a tour Monday. That includes 600 new robots to perform new tasks or replace old robots on the floor. A new command center was installed to monitor the robots’ well-being and productivity 24/7.
• Two 3-D Printers: The plant added two new 3-D printers to produce machine parts and tools to keep the plant running on site. The two printers cost a total of about $150,000.
• 41 break rooms: Ford added 41 new team rooms across the factory floor, with water dispensers, microwaves, refrigerators, picnic tables and personal lockers, giving workers a place to take a 30-minute break without hiking to a distant plant location.
• 160 giant ceiling fans: A surprisingly cool breeze blows continuously throughout the factory, thanks to 160 new 20-foot ceiling fans installed as part of the plant upgrade.
• 1 workout room: A small gym was added to the factory room floor for workers to pump iron when they’re not assembling it.
• 382,454 vehicles produced: The plant made 382,454, vehicles last year, including more than 335,000 Ford Explorer SUVs. Downtime for retooling and the ramp-up to full capacity will likely reduce the output by about 50,000 vehicles this year, DeMartino said.
• 17 to 24 hours for assembly process: It takes 17 to 24 hours for a vehicle to wend its way through the assembly line before emerging for final inspection. When the plant is operating at full capacity, a new vehicle rolls off the line every 52 seconds, DeMartino said.
$1 billion plant retooling: Ford brought in thousands of skilled tradesmen to “gut the place and put it all back together” in 30 days during March, DeMartino said, calling it “a massive undertaking” and the fastest retooling the automaker has ever done for an all-new vehicle build.

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