Ford’s New Aluminum F-150 Requires Retooling of Major Manufacturing Facilities

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Major Ford auto plants are undergoing renovation as part of a new production strategy for its F-150 pickup truck, which will include an all-aluminum body. The company must retool its facility so it’s equipped to crank out the improved model.The Wall Street Journal reports, “Ford stopped production at its Rouge truck plant on [Aug. 22] for eight weeks to install new riveting machines, adhesive robots and other specialized tools meant to put together the aluminum-bodied truck, which will weigh about 700 pounds less than the current model, said Joe Hinrichs, the executive vice president of Ford Motor Co. over North and South America.”

The top-selling truck – which Ford hopes to make available near the close of 2014 – and its impending makeover represent a difficult undertaking for the automaker. The high price of aluminum paired with the challenges around caring for metal stamping equipment means the company didn’t take the overhaul lightly.

According to the Detroit Free Press, “The upheaval has been carefully orchestrated. The plant is now closed until Sept. 22, which puts about 3,000 workers on temporary layoff starting [Aug. 25]. Another 1,500 skilled trade workers and contractors from Ford and its suppliers are working around the clock to build a new body shop that takes a “quantum leap in manufacturing technology.””

The temporary factory closing, along with an upcoming renovation at Ford’s Kansas City, Mo. plant, will make up an estimated 90,000-unit loss for the company’s 2014 production. Between the two facilities the company is slated to spend well over $359 million in revamping alone.

USA Today notes, “Because Ford sells at least 60,000 F-150s a month now, returning to full production as quickly as possible is crucial to maintaining Ford’s bottom line.”

So what’s the reward for all these changes? The sleeker F-150 will get better gas mileage after its 700-lb. weight loss. It’s a turn in the right direction for auto manufacturers that hope to stay competitive with big vehicles in the “green” market.

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