2015 Ford F-150 Plant Tour
Ford’s Dearborn Truck Plant
The 2015 Ford F-150 has its fans and its skeptics. Count us among the former. We're thoroughly impressed with the engineering, capability, and driving characteristics of Ford's new truck. Whether or not you're a wholehearted believer in Ford's commitment to aluminum, there's no escaping that the change was unprecedented and monumental in the history of Ford Motor Company and the automotive industry in general, for that matter. Ford was certainly not the first carmaker to build an aluminum-bodied vehicle, but the sheer scale of F-150 production and the amount of aluminum such volume will require is far beyond any other automotive manufacturing project to date.
The change was so radical that the company had to coordinate with the Michigan Department of Transportation to facilitate the logistics of changing the plant from steel to aluminum construction, and it resulted in large sections of the plant being essentially gutted to make way for the new aluminum welding and construction robots and equipment.
Along with the plant equipment changeover comes a major change in how visitors experience and interact with the plant. Working in conjunction with The Henry Ford, an automotive history museum, an all-new visitors' center was constructed adjacent to the Dearborn Truck plant to showcase the new F-150, featuring an animatronic audio-visual presentation going through each step of the F-150's production by projecting images onto a blank life-size model of the truck, aided by articulating robot arms. The description may sound a little hokey, but the in-person experience is quite compelling.
After being razzle-dazzled with the light show, we went upstairs and across a long overhead corridor to actually go into the plant itself. The portion of the plant that's actually part of the walking tour is toward the end stages of production, with most of the trucks largely already painted and partially assembled. There is a portion where you see the "marriage" of the body, chassis, and some door panels whizzing by overhead on hanging conveyors, as well as the installation of seats and interior pieces.
Nevertheless, if you're expecting the archetypal image of huge crucibles of molten metal being poured into forms, sparks flying, loud noises, and sweaty, muscle-bound men in overalls man-handling heavy machinery, you'll be disappointed. We politely asked if we could see the stamping plant where aluminum sheet is formed into doors, fenders, and body panels but were told it was too noisy and dangerous. However, the virtual representation of the stamping in the audio-visual presentation gives you some idea of the experience. Somewhat anti-climactically for such a large-volume plant, the Rouge Truck facility seemed organized, even relaxed, with the line workers never appearing harried or overwhelmed.
While we were hoping to get deeper into the bowels of this modern marvel of manufacturing, the initial audio-visual presentation gives visitors a compelling, action-packed representation, and even the brief glimpse of the factory floor is an interesting look into the world of auto manufacturing.
Tours are offered Monday through Saturday, except major holidays, from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Ticket prices are $15 for adults and $11 for youth older than 2 years. Museum members and seniors are eligible for discounted ticket prices. For more information, call (800) 835-5237 or visit thehenryford.org and click on the "Factory Tour" link.
The audiovisual presentation of the tour is housed in an IMAX surround-view theater and features a blank full-scale model onto which different stages of the F-150's production process are projected, aided by articulating robot arms.
Among the different stages of production represented are painting, welding, and body panel attachment.
The scale of the Dearborn Truck plant is massive, but everything seems calm, organized, and efficient.
Nearly all of the trucks we saw being built were SuperCrew models, which are projected to make up the majority of F-150 sales.
Short and long beds await installation.
A partially trimmed cab awaits "marriage" to the chassis and engine.
Painted door panels whiz by on overhead conveyors, awaiting installation on the cabs.
Painted beds get a final quality inspection before being joined to the chassis.
Fully assembled trucks are staged near the end of the line for a final quality check before being loaded for transport.