Traverse City conference: Ford’s smart factory approach yields savings

August 1, 2018 06:01 CET

TRAVERSE CITY — Ford Motor has discovered that high-tech cloud computing, data analytics and other smart processes in its assembly plants can lead to efficiencies that can deliver higher profits.

“We’ve identified that there is savings and value-add that is significant,” Tim Geiger, principal architect for manufacturing at Ford, said Monday at the Car Management Briefing Seminars here. “Our data scientists just want the data; they don’t care how we get the data to them.”

At Kentucky Truck Plant, for example, that data comes in real time from the assembly line.

The automaker has implemented a data analytics center on the factory floor that involves seven screens and thousands of color-coded numbers flashing across them.

The hub lets plant workers know whether they’re meeting hourly production targets and pinpoints exactly where problems arise on the line.

Workers can see when parts are running low so they can order a new batch before they run out.

Geiger called areas such as preventative maintenance, materials and labor handling “low-hanging fruit,” saying what will provide real value is managing that data and applying it across all of Ford’s facilities.

Kentucky Truck isn’t the only Ford plant that uses such analytics tools, but it’s an important one, building some of Ford’s most profitable vehicles: the Ford Super Duty pickups and Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.

The automaker announced this year that it was investing $25 million to speed the assembly line and produce about 25 percent more SUVs in 2018 that it originally planned.

But with all that new technology comes a set of new challenges. Geiger said Ford is spending “a lot of time” trying to beef up its cybersecurity in its manufacturing processes.

“We have a huge emphasis on cybersecurity throughout our organization,” Geiger said. “But there’s no quick fixes to all the exposures you have. There are some things we have to change in how our setup is today in manufacturing.”

You can reach Michael Martinez at mdmartinez@crain.com.

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