Inside the Ford plant on Chicago’s south side, it’s difficult to recognize that it is the company’s oldest continuously producing plant. A nearly $1 billion investment and 500 additional jobs have completely transformed this plant into a high-tech facility entrusted with building a new version of America’s best-selling SUV over the last 29 years – the Ford Explorer. Ford announced the investment and 500 new jobs earlier this year. The strong Chicago workforce is also taking over production of Police Interceptor Utility vehicles and the all-new Lincoln Aviator. The plant changeover took one month – a company record for an all-new vehicle build.
“This reflects American ingenuity at its finest,” said Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president, Automotive. “In the first five days of the transformation, the team moved the scrap metal equivalent to the weight of the Eiffel Tower from the plant, making room for new equipment. Knowing this plant is set in a city and trucks could not go in and out of the plant at all hours, the team got creative and rented a barge, put all of the scrap metal on it, floated it a mile up the river to a recycling center, then moved in more than 500 truckloads of new technology.”
Ford replaced outdated machines with advanced manufacturing technology – including two 3D printers at the plant. The Chicago team stripped the body shop down to the concrete floor and completely rebuilt it – adding 600 new robots. The team updated the paint shop, too, and modified nearly every operator workstation in the final assembly area. The plant now also features a collaborative robot with a camera that inspects electrical connections during the manufacturing process. The new production line also uses several 3D printed tools and nearly 500 new error-proofing tools to help employees build these new SUVs with even higher quality for customers.
Ford also invested $40 million for employee-centered improvements to make the plant a better place to work, including all-new LED lighting, cafeteria updates, new break areas and security upgrades in the parking lot. The company also added team break rooms on the plant floor, which is important to employees on the line who work on their feet all day. With 30-minute breaks, they used to spend 10 minutes walking to and from an area in which they could relax. Now they can take full advantage of their entire break period.
“This plant is 95 years old but it’s just like new,” said Robert Washington, Chicago Assembly Plant employee. “I love to see the products we build out on the roads. It makes me very proud.”
Ford assembles more vehicles in the U.S. than any other manufacturer. The company also employs more hourly workers than any other automaker. More than 80 percent of what Ford sells in the U.S. is assembled in the U.S.* Approximately 5,000 people work at Chicago Assembly Plant, including approximately 4,800 hourly employees. Approximately 1,200 people work at Chicago Stamping Plant including approximately 1,100 hourly employees.
“Our UAW members in Chicago are very serious about building these vehicles with quality,” said Rory Gamble, UAW-Ford Vice President. “Ford’s investment in the Chicago plants is important because it secures the jobs of our nearly 6,000 UAW members in the area, which is critical not only to their families but to the communities in which they live.”