SAARLOUS, Germany - Two years before it started building the Focus here, Ford drew up a core team of more than 100 of its best production-line operators. It wanted to plan assembly in parallel with supplier-park logistics techniques pioneered at its plants in Genk, Belgium, and Valencia, Spain.
Saarlouis was to become Ford's lead plant for the Focus, with a capacity of !,590 units a day.
A purpose-built 50,000-square meter industrial park was constructed alongside the main Saarlouis facility to house 12 separate suppliers delivering modular subassemblies and welded components for Focus production.
The main suppliers are Benteler (front and rear axles); Visteon, Anterist and Schneider (instrument panel module with steering column and wheel); UTA (main cable harness); Irausa (roof linings); LMS (engine/gearbox assembly; door linings, side-panel coverings); Tenneco and Gillet (exhaust); Sekurit (glass); Michels (body parts); and ACU (special equipment).
The supplier park is linked to the Focus lines by two delivery systems; a 1,000 meter-enclosed overhead conveyor system connecting to 16 individual drop stations in the final assembly area, and a 225-meter tunnel running directly to the press and body shop.
Exact timing and accurate sequence of components deliveries are controlled by Ford's central production control systems. These are connected to the supplier park via dedicated fiber-optic data links.
In combination with line-side information feedback, bar-code parts identificiation and automatic call-off of modules and parts, the systems ensure optimized material flow and just-in-time delivery.
'In launching the Focus, we were determined to provide the customer with outstanding quality,' said Rolf Zimmermann, Ford of Europe's vice president of manufacturing. 'We also wanted to offer enhanced value by using a lean, efficient manufacturing process.
'Ford's supplier park concept, with its automatic delivery system feeding modules in sequence direct to the assembly lines, makes a significant contribution to productivity,' he said. 'We can ensure that each individual customer order can be built as planned and delivered on time.'
Other benefits include quality gains resulting from better planning and streamlined processes, including smaller inventories, reduced storage requirements and less waste.
'Suppliers themselves can implement leaner processes and organize efficient in-sequence and just-in-time deliveries,' Zimmermann said.
Ford logistics managers claim a 25 percent improvement in efficiency in Focus production against Escort production.
The adoption of modular construction has considerably reduced the complexity of in-house Ford operations, cutting the number of assembled parts by more than one-third - from around 4,600 on Escort to some 3,000 on Focus. For example, the 300 separate parts from which Ford operatives assembled the instrument panel and steering column for the Escort are now taken on the Focus line as a single item.
The system has also made a direct contribution to the environment by eliminating the need for more than 300 truck journeys per day. Packaging waste has also been significantly reduced.