Ford is currently embarking on one of the most massive and comprehensive overhauls in the company’s 111 year history. By next year, Ford plans to roll out an astonishing 16 new vehicles in the United States and 23 worldwide!
To gear up for this wild ride, Ford has recently overhauled their 2.6 million square foot Dearborn, Michigan truck plant, adding 300 new robotic machines to work side by side with assembly workers.
“We believe we’re ready,” said Ford president Joe Hinrichs in an interview with Automotive News. “We really believe in the products and our execution.”
Only adding to the difficult nature of this task, though, is the F-150’s transition from steel to aluminum. Even an upgraded factory does not make this aluminum transition any less daunting.
Using the same process that was recently used for the Jaguar Land Rover, Ford will be forced to switch from the established welding process of steel to a far more complex technique that uses a mixture of rivets and industrial adhesives.
“The new truck entails a delicate balance of procurement, handling, metal forming, bonding and testing unlike any other product Ford (or any auto manufacturer) has ever produced at this scale,” said Adam Jonas of Morgan Stanley in a July note to investors. “This cannot be easy. We expect an on-time launch, but a very slow ramp-up.”
Certainly, much of the difficulties of working with aluminum stems from its temperamental nature, for example, the fact that aluminum can’t bend as much and must be absolutely clean throughout the entire manufacturing process.
Joining the pieces of aluminum is even tougher. Since they won’t be using spot welding techniques, Ford will instead rely on rivets. Automotive News writer Bradford Wernie estimates, “Ford would need 2.42 billion rivets per year to assemble 650,000 F-150s.”
This transition to a more complex process also means that more labor and attention to detail will be needed. In fact, Hinrichs has said that the Dearborn factory will be handling 60 jobs per hour, 7 days a week.
Ford president Joe Hinrichs acknowledges all of these challenges, but still remains confident, saying, “There’s not a lot of buffer, trust me. Because every day we don’t build F-150s means a lot. No one has been given a lot of extra time. We have laid this out hour by hour, day by day. We have all the company’s resources at our disposal. There’s nothing more important than this.”