By on June 16, 2009

Years ago, I was in a new Volkswagen factory. Different cars of different brands were rolling down the same assembly line, most of the work done by robots. A huge stamping machine made fifty fenders, dropped the tool into a storage bin, grabbed another tool and made eighty doors. I said to the guy who showed me the factory: “Soon, you can ship the tooling to another factory via e-mail.”

“Sure,” the guy said. “As long as they all have a setup like this.” This is what Ford seems to be doing.

When Ford builds a new plant anywhere in the world, it is now required that it has the same processes and equipment as other company facilities. This is what Ford manufacturing chief Joe Hinrichs said at the same conference, where GM gave a stand-up routine about interbuildability.

Ford simply calls it “standardizing.” Their Ford Fiesta subcompacts built in China will come from a factory identical to Ford’s Cuautitlan plant in Mexico. In three years, ten Ford assembly plants in North America should achieve the same “levels of body shop flexibility,” Hinrichs said in a keynote speech at the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference.

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31 Comments on “Now for the Real Interbuildability...”


  • avatar
    TonyJZX

    This shouldn’t be surprising. They have largely removed the human factor.

    I believe that a Buick made in China or South Africa or Mexico or Detroit should be largely identical.

    Mercedes make their cars in China and Mexico and no-one seems to complain (much) about their CLS Coupe/sedans.

  • avatar
    mikey

    So somebody has figured out how to change from fenders to doors with the same die set? Is he tooling you refer to from a progresive die set?

    Bertel they produce only 80 panels in a run?

    With all due respect sir I’d like to see some of these things done.I spent a lot of time around the most modern.state of the art presses in the world.A robot doing a comlplete die flip?

  • avatar

    Mikey:

    It’s a huge machine. Three guys sit in front of it, like in a nuclear plant, looking at screens. To the left, a huge thing the size of a basketball court. Shelves full with dies. To the right, a stack of rolled steel. Robot picks a die, picks up the metal – with magnets, such as not to scratch it. Stamps out just as many parts as needed. Puts die back. Makes next batch of whatever they need, and so forth. Machine is in Wolfsburg.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @Bertel…At the Oshawa metal we could do a simple die change front door to rear door say. 2O minutes to 1/2 hour. Minimum 3 dies, one to draw another to flange,and one trim die.The steel arrived uncoiled and blanked.Our idea of a short run was a thousand panels.

    I was always told,we had the most modern stamping presses in the world. Japanese made Komatsu and IHI transfer presses.

    I guess they lied to me.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Bertel, how long does it takes for changing the dies?

    I haven’t had the chance to go to a major league (read mass production) factory. Do they ave jigs for assembling the bodies or the panels are placed by robots too?

    I saw a video of a BMW factory and they even had racks to store painted bodies (previous gen 3 series)… being a robot the one who stores and removes them to put in the line.

  • avatar
    Mark MacInnis

    Wave of the future….er, present. Read “Lean Thinking.” and take it to the logical extremes. Cost savings from not having to finance,store, identify, track (for quality purposes and FIFO, etc.)and move many times large batches of inventory offsets the cost of the technology and “lost” productivity due to changeover times.

    Mass production ain’t dead….it has just been allowed to get smarter. I say “allowed” to get smarter because note that these innovations are happening in Europe and Asia, not the US. The UAW not only has priced the domestics out of their ability to compete, but their union work rules (which define how work is to be done in the plants) have effectively locked the D1.2 out of their ability to develop state-of-the-art manufacturing technology here in the States, where we pioneered the whole concept of mass production, and where we SHOULD be kicking ass and deciding if we want to go back and get names later.

    That, plus the fact that our unionized schools turn out morons incapable of such technical development.

    BTW…..who was it the other day that was saying something derogatory about Mullaley? This post shows how he is literally tapping the tech savvy of his aerospace background to rebuild Ford manufacturing from the inside out, and top to bottom. Government Motors ever likely to develop capability like this? Laughable. GM has wasted, adn will continue to waste, money on marketing and badge engineering and dealer channels, rather than developing processes like this.

    I think I might just by me a little Ford stock today.

  • avatar

    Bertel, how long does it takes for changing the dies? Maybe 30 – 45 seconds.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @Mark Macinnis What work rules are you refering to?”Just in time” and FIFO were in the North American plants 20 years ago. As far as standarized work practice about 10 years ago.

    Here’s a shocker boys and girls.GM,Ford,Honda and every other car company all use the same automated equipment.

    Part of the reason GM is so far in the hole is the cost of automation.

    “Morons incapable of such technical development”
    That is so wrong. I suspect that some of TTACs better educated B&B may take exception to that statement.

    Bertel are we talking about a full fender/door die set,weighing 30 to 50 thousand pounds each? In and out in less than a minute,and at the same time it changes the steel coil.

  • avatar
    metric_tool

    Freaking awesome. Time was, a die exchange took 8 hours!! In the six sigma world, making a process lean is called SMED – single minute exchange of dies. I didn’t realize that this had really been accomplished. (In The Machine That Changed the World, they talk about Nissan plants competing to see who can get the die exchange down under 15 minutes – and that was in the mid to late 80’s.)

  • avatar

    Mikey: I wrote a chapter about that machine in a book. Just found it again. Printed Sept 2003. Says:

    “One of the world’s largest suction presses. Has a force of 7300 metric tons. Capable of 12 6-stage cycles per minute.”

    It’s a monster. Yes, full sets of dies. I’m looking at pictures as I type. Too large to scan, double spread in a coffee table book ….

    This was 6 years ago, I bet they have better machines now.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @Bertel .. When you are aware or whats in involved in a die change “less than a minute”is truly impressive.
    Yeah I can remember the hoopala around 1990 for the 15 minute die change! For someone who had just transfered in from final car assembly,where a 2000 RPM Nakita was considered high tech, I was in awe. Pulling it off in 45 seconds
    is incredible.

    Its mind boggling to concieve moving those massive die’s at that speed.

    Well that certainly goes a long ways to explain VWs sucess.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    Bertel, thanks for this article. Every major car maker needs to be able to have “interbuildability” and fast make-readies of their equipment are key to that concept, especially with robotics having a need for smaller and smaller crews.

    I don’t work with heavy machinery in my job, but I am fascinated by it nonetheless. Things like monster-huge printing presses, stamping machines, the steel-making process, how they make ships, planes, and trains, as well as how they do deep mining and so forth.

    mikey responding to a comment:

    “Morons incapable of such technical development”

    That is so wrong. I suspect that some of TTACs better educated B&B may take exception to that statement.

    The language may be a bit stronger than I would have used, but I’m not offended by it. I was “government schooled” in the 60s and 70s, and I have an advanced degree today. In retrospect, I do believe that I was not served well by my public school education.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    This was 6 years ago, I bet they have better machines now.

    If imagining these kind of machinery is mind boggling for me…

    Damn, this country is so 3rd world :(

  • avatar

    Those German auto workers are also unionized Mark MacInnis their pay and benefits are not cheap. I recall reading that when Toyota took over Fremont California former GM plant they achieved a higher quality and lower costs with a mere one robot and the same UAW workforce than the dazzling state of the art Buick City with hundreds of robots.

    The best analogy I can come up with is that some people recall that the Italian solder in WW2 came off poorly but in reality it was their officer core. When led properly they fought well. Same here it’s the management it really is. GM makes plenty of product in non union places like Korea and Mexico. They could have an entirely non UAW workforce and they would still be what they are which is poorly run company.

  • avatar
    DelphiEng

    Mark MacInnis is Correct.

    As a former Engineer at a former GM parts plant, I have seen the UAW squash the best of ideas. Automation and procedures were put in place to change out powdered iron press dies in a matter of 10 minutes (timed from when the machine stopped until it would start up again). It was proven by the Engineers and the Management to work. It was rejected by the UAW local as a ‘speed-up’ (even though it was a new process in a new department). It was never used and the 4-8 hour change-over prevailed.

    Yes the management messed up by not addressing these same issues that were repeated over the past 50 years, but it is difficult to get ahead of your competition when you are dragging a lead weight.

    Mikey: GM is not ‘in the hole’ due to automation. They are in the hole because they were not able to appropriately use their automation.

  • avatar

    Sure its the UAW’s fault. Strange how the the Corolla is built by UAW workers and profitable and a best seller and know for its quality. Strange how GM’s small cars are not profitable and not known for quality. Must be the UAW must be couldn’t be anything else.

  • avatar
    LouisJamesNYC

    The Big Three has had over three decades to produce a car that’s as good (read: reliable, efficient, advanced, fun-to-drive, etc.) as either an Accord or a Camry, yet hasn’t. And it shows no sign of doing so in any sort of Big Three future. The Accord and Camry, by today’s standard, are simply average, run-of-the-mill cars. And Detroit cannot match let alone best them. What’s Detroit’s answer to a BMW 3-series car, especially one as high tech as an M3? (A: nothing.)

    The SUV saved Detroit for a little while. But large, low-performance, gas-thirsty vehicles are not viable products anymore. At least not as mass market commuters; they do fill a niche however for those who need to haul and tow stuff. Detroit has not been producing class competitive cars for a very long time. That’s simply unsustainable in such a low margin industry like automobile manufacturing. One has to meet or exceed customer expectations these days, especially for big ticket items. Drop legacy costs on top of it all, and there’s no way Detroit can compete in the global automobile market.

    Inferior products that don’t compete on price? You can’t run a business model like that anymore, irrespective of how good your managers and marketers are.

    Even Harley-Davidson, with it’s loyal customer base, brand equity, and niche vehicles eventually had to make better motorcycles to survive. (Ones that did not leak oil.)

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Yes the management messed up by not addressing these same issues that were repeated over the past 50 years, but it is difficult to get ahead of your competition when you are dragging a lead weight.

    So do you ever think about what they paid those managers to do?

    I was “government schooled” in the 60s and 70s, and I have an advanced degree today. In retrospect, I do believe that I was not served well by my public school education.

    Education is broken in a lot of ways in this country due to cultural issues. Nobody wants to learn anything and it shows.

    Also, given what I recall of your other posts, are you sure you’re served well by that advanced degree.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Shermin Lin: Those German auto workers are also unionized Mark MacInnis their pay and benefits are not cheap.

    The Germans don’t compete in the mass market in this country. They compete in the luxury and near-luxury markets, where there is more tolerance for lower reliability (in exchange for the driving experience) and the cost pressures aren’t as great.

    The one German auto manufacturer that does attempt to compete in the mass market is VW, and it hasn’t exactly been setting the world on fire in the U.S.

    Sherman Lin: I recall reading that when Toyota took over Fremont California former GM plant they achieved a higher quality and lower costs with a mere one robot and the same UAW workforce than the dazzling state of the art Buick City with hundreds of robots.

    True. On the other hand, Toyota hasn’t exactly welcomed the UAW with open arms at its other U.S. facilities, which is also telling.

  • avatar
    Slow_Joe_Crow

    So Ford finally figured out the same “Copy Exact” process Intel has been using for chip fabs for 20 years.

  • avatar

    @Bertel Schmitt + @Robert Farago: You guys need to get together and sashay this content, or an expanded version of it over to “Wired Magazine”.
    It is EXACTLY up their alley.
    Maybe a little more blown-out version. +Do a traffic or AdRev swap or something. Throw some sweet InfoGraphics at it like the ones from “Good Magazine”, etc.
    I would LOVE to see that happen.

    +They have a small article in the Jun2, 2009 issue on “Detroit Reimagined” by Charles Mann that @BS & @RF could absolutely kick the shit out of.

    DO EET!!!

    +ed. AHA! -Here’s the link to the “Wired, ‘Beyond Detroit\'” article: http://www.wired.com/culture/culturereviews/magazine/17-06/nep_auto

  • avatar
    ktm

    geeber, you are being awfully myopic. VW is set to take over Toyota as the world’s largest car manufacturer. There are other markets besides the US. Remember (as reported by TTAC), VW has less than a 3% market share in the US.

  • avatar
    geeber

    ktm,

    Ever wonder why VW has less than 3 percent of the market in the U.S.? And once the U.S. market recovers, Toyota will probably once again pull away from VW.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Ever wonder why VW has less than 3 percent of the market in the U.S.? And once the U.S. market recovers, Toyota will probably once again pull away from VW.

    Ever wonder why the opposite is true elsewhere?

    The fact is even if the transplants were unionized (as they are at home), they would still be far more efficient. Even without union labor, the d3 is not going to find a working strategy without outside help because they are screwups.

    It’s sort of like conservatism. You can present it all the facts and logic, but it still can’t figure out how to make it work together. The underlying problem is not a technical one but that of proper goals and motivation.

  • avatar
    geeber

    agenthex: Ever wonder why the opposite is true elsewhere?

    Because most other markets have lower standards for reliability, and, in Europe, many cars are provided as a company perk (to help employees avoid high income taxes).

    When drivers aren’t concerned about purchase price, maintenance costs and trade-in value, they are also less likely to be concerned about reliability.

    Also, most drivers in other countries rack up fewer miles per year on their vehicles. Since miles pile up more slowly on the odometer, the car is less likely to experience a major breakdown or mechanical failure related to wear and tear when the original driver has it.

    If those conditions were present in the U.S., VWs would probably sell better here, as the vehicles themselves are quite nice when they are working. Of course, VW would also have to improve its atrocious dealer network.

    But, those conditions aren’t present, VW still has the same dealer network, so it still has less than 3 percent of the market.

    agenthex: The fact is even if the transplants were unionized (as they are at home), they would still be far more efficient.

    The unions in Japan are more like company unions, which were banned in the U.S. during the 1930s by New Deal Democrats. They aren’t comparable to the UAW in mission, scope or attitude regarding the company.

    If you want to understand auto unions in Japan, David Halberstam’s 1986 book, The Reckoning, is a good place to start. He details an important strike against Nissan in the early 1950s, how the company broke it, and its subsequent effect on the Japanese auto unions.

    agenthex: Even without union labor, the d3 is not going to find a working strategy without outside help because they are screwups.

    You need to tell that to Ford and the UAW, which are busy working together to improve efficiency in its plants.

    Looks like they are proving you wrong.

    Granted, it took a near bankruptcy for them to do this, but Ford has worked with the UAW to obtain ocompetitive operating agreements (COAs) in its plants that will improve efficiency by bringing work rules into line with those of the transplant operations.

    This required a change of attitude on the part of the UNION as much as on the part of the company (although Ford has enjoyed a good relationship with the UAW since the days of Henry Ford II).

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Because most other markets have lower standards for reliability, and, in Europe, many cars are provided as a company perk (to help employees avoid high income taxes).

    None of this explains the gargantuan disparity. Some more company cars, so therefore 3% vs. double digit market penetration. Great thinking.

    They aren’t comparable to the UAW in mission, scope or attitude regarding the company.

    That must be why the capital extremists are promoting these company unions as a reasonable alternative.


    You need to tell that to Ford and the UAW, which are busy working together to improve efficiency in its plants.

    Oh, I guess 1 out of 3 starts copying the transplants and that’s your standard to prove a point. But I thought the idea of collective bargaining was evil and bane of society. If anything, all it shows is how incompetent of a former operation standard this is being compared to.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    Yes, it does. You just can’t admit it.

    Yes, their dominance world wide vs the us is due to to # of large size company cars. It makes perfect sense. Please post some company car numbers and %’s if you’re claiming to be so knowledgeable. We’ll compare to total sales and show everyone how knowledge you are.


    Incidentally, how do you explain this huge disparity?

    Mostly because they had their home market and they decided money is better spent on emerging markets. They had excellent results in the largest upcoming buyer in china. Probably also because their emphasis is on stuff like perceivable quality and nvh vs reliability and in america tastes are different.


    Just because certain people are anti-union doesn’t mean that they want company unions in their place.

    Of course not, because collective bargaining is only for the wealthy. Letting lower members of society should be illegal.


    And, as I noted, in the U.S., company unions are illegal.

    Yes, yes, I’m sure that the one thing that stands in the way of a solution, because laws are indefinitely absolute and no sane company would have people who may desire to lobby for beneficial changes.


    As I said, read The Reckoning so that you will be better informed on this topic.

    What exactly is in this that is so valuable? It didn’t seem to have benefit your sense of understanding so much.

    Considering that there are only three in the first place, and one has made the most progress in adopting the transplants’ techniques, and that one has so far avoided bankruptcy, unlike the other two, I’d say that makes a pretty convincing case.

    Yes, it’s convincing that having positive and mutual labor relations is beneficial. No sh1t, sherlock, what do you think I’m promoting, poor labor relations?

    What do you think they hire this labor “management” to do? Beat down insubordination? The labors do work for their $’s, what do you think their manager’s job is?

    Your position of equal blame assumes the sides to be symmetrical, but it’s not quite.

    You need to bring that point up with other posters, because I’ve said nothing about the pros or cons of the collective bargaining process.

    The point is that the d3 have been grossly incompetent at managing labor relations. You only counterpoint is that now ford is starting to copy the much more successful transplant, so they are all no longer incompetent. It guess that settles it for you.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    I’d suggest that you become better informed of the European market and how cars are bought there.

    In other words you concede the point because you have NOTHING to show that company cars make a significant difference and also decided to dodge the point on their emerging markets.

    So did GM. Didn’t do it much good in the long run.

    It did good for VW, along with the latin american market, that’s what we’re talking about. GM has enough problems of its own that nothing short of BK has even the potential to save it, so your point is idiotic.

    Irrelevant. What matters is whether they have changed the laws covering company unions, and so far they haven’t.

    What’s relevant is that they don’t care, and they didn’t want to.

    As I said, it contains valuable information on the history of the Japanese auto industry after World War II, particularly an important strike against Nissan in the early 1950s, and how it was resolved.

    Yes, they learned their lesson on labor relations early, and the d3 is coming about much much slower. Did you have a point other than that?

    Talk to people in the industry. The UAW is hardly blameless. And it’s not 1937 anymore. The UAW is hardly powerless within these companies.

    We are both aware of the failures in the d3’s labor pool. The disagreement here is that you take the standard “equality culpable” stance, which ignores the whole point of labor management (look at my post above, see the point you dodged about the role of management). Hey, you know what? Dumb labors suck at managing. Maybe the company should hire some people who are decent at that kind of job.

    And when a company succesfully completes the arduous task of negotiating and implementing competitive operating agreements (COAs) in its plants, I’d say it is doing something right on the labor relations front.

    A few decades behind the times. Stellar performance by your standards no doubt. Not living in the past anymore is a real achievement for the backwards.

    If you remain unconvinced, perhaps the problem resides with you and a lack of knowledge of what is happening in the domestic auto industry.

    We get it. You’re so knowledgeable because you know what’s in that book that I just summarized in one sentence, and which doesn’t really assist your point in any way.

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    ZoomZoom:

    I was “government schooled” in the 60s and 70s, and I have an advanced degree today. In retrospect, I do believe that I was not served well by my public school education.

    agenthex responds:

    …given what I recall of your other posts, are you sure you’re served well by that advanced degree.

    Wow.

    Was that a serious response? By the way, you missed a question mark on the end of that…

  • avatar
    ZoomZoom

    It was an honest self-assessment from my personal perspective, given my life experiences. That is to say, I’m NOT offended by the comments that Mikey thought somebody like me would be offended by. I stated that, and I stated the reason behind it.

    It was not an invitation to insult me.

    Others may feel differently than I. If so, they should have responded with their own opinion from their own personal perspective, without vitriol.

    Issuing insults does not encourage free and open discussion, and so I’m ending my presence in this thread.

    By the way, my “nitpicking” was merely done in good humor. I just thought it was funny, and I was hoping that it might be an ice-breaker that we could all kind of laugh about and move on.

    I see now that that’s not possible. Just to be clear, I most certainly didn’t mean to dis anybody’s reputation or intelligence. I apologize if that was the perception; I probably should have used an emoticon. Or better yet, just ignored the comment.

    Maybe I’m reading a bit too much between the lines here, but I think this conversation has run out of safe pavement. For that, I’m truly sorry, and I’ll be more careful in the future.

  • avatar
    agenthex

    By the way, my “nitpicking” was merely done in good humor. I just thought it was funny, and I was hoping that it might be an ice-breaker that we could all kind of laugh about and move on.

    People tend to take me much more seriously than I take myself.

    If you read me in a snarky and sarcastic tone, perhaps it won’t come off as being mean.

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