I Visited the Ford F-150 Rouge Assembly Plant (and You Can, Too!)

I recently took a trip to Michigan, a state rich with automotive history. It’s here where automobiles first became mass produced and where the car assembly line was perfected. I’ve always wanted to visit an automotive plant and witness cars rolling along the production line, and I did just that when I stopped in Dearborn, Michigan, and toured Ford’s Rouge Assembly Plant, where the F-150 pickup is assembled.

Since the early 20th century, the global headquarters for Ford has been located in Dearborn. Upon completion of the initial plant in 1928 at the River Rouge site in Dearborn, it became the largest integrated production site in the world — able to turn vehicles from raw steel into a finished product. The one-and-a-half by one-mile site is a historic landmark for industrial processes, originally building Eagle "antisubmarine" boats during World War I and knock-down kits of the Model T, which were then moved by rail to other assembly sites. Over the years, the Rouge Assembly Plant also produced the Ford Mustang (until 2004, when production was moved to Flat Rock, MI), before becoming the main production site for the Ford F-150 truck.

Ford has built the River Rouge site to evolve with production needs, and to bring closed-loop production to its most advanced stage in history. Ford goes to great lengths to ensure maximum efficiency throughout the facility, and this is seen at many stages, beginning with the pressing of the chassis, where the aluminum waste is shredded and then sold right back to the supplier on the same transport where the material is delivered. Ford uses a rainwater reclamation system to manage flooding on the River Rouge, as well as a 10-acre sustainable green roof, which was the largest in the world when constructed.

Since the Rouge Assembly Plant covers a monstrous one million square feet, the tour only takes you through the final assembly portion of the facility, which, in my opinion, is the most exciting part. After watching short films on the history of the plant and Ford’s manufacturing innovations, and then surveying the site from an observation deck, the tour moves to a raised walkway above the area where the final assembly takes place.

From the final assembly viewing platform, visitors are able to see the assembly process in real time. Here, painted truck chasses on beachwood platforms called "skillets" move from one station to another. Beachwood is used for its springy properties, offering some shock absorption for assembly workers who work 11-hour, 4-day-a-week shifts at the plant. The Rouge workforce consists of 7,000 employees, and 1,200 work at any time per shift. Workforce training consists of two weeks of off-site training, one week of onsite orientation and finally two weeks of "mock-up" training. Employees become members of the United Auto Workers Local 600 union, and tend to average 20 to 25 years of employment at Ford.

From the viewing platform, I was immediately struck by how quiet the assembly floor was. Instead of using loud pneumatic tools, assembly line workers use quieter electric tools — and they only focus on a single task per station, each stocked with two hours of parts. A computer embedded in each tool measures and records the angle of contact and amount of torque applied to each nut and bolt for quality control. In addition, laser measurements are constantly taken as the vehicle rolls down the assembly line. Hazardous and ultra-precise steps like auto paint and windshield installation are done by machine — however nearly all of the assembly is done by hand. All of these considerations and more ensure that a finished F-150 truck rolls off the line every 52 seconds.

The F-Series has been the best-selling vehicle produced in the United States for the past 40 years, and roughly 290,000 of the 800,000 globally produced F-150 models are assembled in here in Dearborn. Annually, 25,000 visitors tour the Rouge Assembly Plant — and if you’ve ever dreamed of witnessing a modern vehicle being assembled, I highly recommend taking the tour. It is quite a sight to behold. Find a Ford F-150 for sale

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