After adding 600,000 units to its North American capacity within the past two years, Ford is trying to find ways to increase output of the Escape crossover and midsize Fusion, both of which currently have about 40 days supply. The Fusion is particularly in short supply on the east and west coasts, a good sign for any domestic automaker these days. A 60 day supply of cars in inventory is generally considered normal for the U.S. auto industry. At an industry conference, the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars, held in Traverse City, Michigan, Ford VP for North America manufacturing, Jim Tetreault, said, “We’re still looking at how we get more out of every plant, and that’ll be a focus for as long as the demand is as strong as it is.”
One option is adding a third shift at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant, which currently builds Mustangs and a second shift is being added to start building Fusions. Adding capacity at the Louisville Assembly Plant, where the Escape is put together, will be done by speeding up the assembly line. Tetreault said that increasing speed by 2 Escapes an hour would give the automaker another 240 vehicles a week to sell. He said that squeezing out even one more car or light truck an hour would be worthwhile.
So far, Ford has used a combination of adding shifts and increased use of relief and floating employees to keep the lines humming at its 30 plants in North America. The automaker also has twice weekly meetings including manufacturing and purchasing managers along with “supplier technical assistance leaders” to look for capacity improvements. Another area of improvement has been through better equipment maintenance. Ford says that production was improved by 3% just by “better up-time” and new equipment purchases. Attention to ergonomics on the assembly line is also expected to yield greater productivity. Employee health, both reducing on the job injuries and identifying employees at risk for chronic illnesses and providing them with health advice, is also seen as a means of improving capacity by reducing absenteeism.
Ford has been increasing its human resources, with 8,000 hourly and 3,000 salaried employees hired within the last 5 quarters. That leaves Ford with a current total of 82,300 workers in North America. Tetreault doubted that Ford will ever see the kind of employment levels it had before the recession, even with continued growth in the U.S. market.