Current and Future Automotive Innovations
We arrive early the next day at the bus stop at Greenfield Village and the Henry Ford Museum for our Ford Rouge Factory Tour. With an overcast sky, we’re glad the indoor factory tour is today.
Entering the Ford Rouge Factory Plant Visitor Center, the men stop to “ooh and ah” over the pristine classic Ford cars on display in the lobby. While this is a self-guided five-part experience, there are guides in each area that share aspects of the plant, its history and future. First stop is Legacy Theater a terrific state-of-the-art theater featuring a history of the Ford Motor Company and Henry Ford’s innovations. Ever the visionary the film highlights Ford’s dream of vertical integration at the Rouge Factory. Self-sufficiency was Ford’s ultimate goal for the Ford Rouge Factory. He wanted to own, operate and coordinate all resources necessary for the manufacture of automobiles. Basically the desire was for “a continuous nonstop process from raw materials to finished product, with no pause even for warehousing or storage.” A large part of the dream became a reality as the Rouge Factory grew to 93 buildings with an expansive variety of plants and processes involved automobile manufacturing. It’s incredible how Ford grew his automobile manufacturing process from the small facility we saw at Greenfield Village to this gigantic “ore to assembly complex” completed in 1929.
From the old to the new, we enter the Art of Manufacturing Theater to see, feel and actually experience how cars and trucks are built today. An amazing theater with 360 degree swivel seats and surrounded by seven huge screens, we become part of the assembly process. With lifelike effects on our virtual tour, a hot rush of heat smacks us from the blast furnaces. Our seats shake and rumble from the stamping presses. A spray mist hits us from paint robots. All this action is to an original score by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. This multi-sensory experience creates automobile production as an amazing performance of light, color, sound and movement. Terrific!
After rocking and rolling, we exit the theater and take the elevator for the 80 feet ride to the Observation Deck. From here we have a fantastic panoramic view of the Ford Rouge Center complex. A guide points out various buildings, the Living Roof atop the Dearborn Truck Plant’s Final Assembly building. Storyboards explain the “Living Roof” or “Green Roof” which is a milestone in environmental design and is the largest of its kind in the world. It lasts twice as long as a regular roof and reduces inside summer temperatures 10 degrees. The parking lot is “Pourous Pavement” made up of small honeycombed pavement that allows the water to drain into swales, going through a filtering process before going to the Rouge watershed. Under Bill Ford’s leadership millions were spent to convert the Ford Rouge Factory Plant be an environmentally efficient Center with its naturalized habitat, pourous pavement, solar arrays and energy saving photovoltaic panels. Still the largest of the Ford plants it again is a leader in the newest vision of a state-of-the-art automobile manufacturing facility.
Our next stop is the Dearborn Plant’s final assembly for the F-150 Ford truck, which is attached to the Visitor Center. It is a holiday so the plant is not in production. As we walk the 1/3 mile elevated walkways we have great views of the assembly line. Stations along the walk show the specific assembly of the part being added and interactive kiosks with continuous videos has employees explaining the assembly process for that station. The friendly staff along the tour, quickly point out items and clarify our questions on the process. Final assembly is the cleanest portion of automobile manufacturing and it is spotless. Our tour has us on the trim line for final assembly which includes installing of seat belts, front windows, one box build line, one door build line and the final inspection area. We can see where the F-150 comes into the plant as an empty shell and leaves as a complete F-150 truck. The steps involved, logistics, and conveyor belt system to move the body along is intricate and amazing. Robotics are used in many of the installations such as the front window. We finish the tour with better understanding of the connections between the advanced tooling process, the dedicated workers and the end quality of the vehicle. At the Test Drive Smart Tools we test our assembly skills. Using the simulator we put a part in place on the F-150 using the advanced tools we saw on the line. Educational and fun! Impressive the Ford Rouge Factory Tour has taken us from the beginnings of automotive manufacturing to this state-of-the-art facility.
Our accommodations during this visit were at the Best Western Greenfield Inn is conveniently located a few miles from Greenfield Village and is just off Interstate 94 at Exit 206. Featuring a distinctive Victorian architecture and old world charm, it had all the modern conveniences of free high speed internet, a fitness center, indoor swimming pool, whirlpool, and sauna. A nice touch was the complimentary guest lending library. Our king room had a comfy four-poster bed, a great reclining chair for unwinding, large desk for planning our day, refrigerator and microwave. On a multi-week we appreciated the guest laundry.
Any visit to Detroit must include Greenfield Village, the Henry Ford Museum and a Ford Rouge Factory Tour. Each of the venues is education and fun. Visitors of all ages will enjoy learning the history of America’s leaders, seeing how people lived in the past and experiencing a modern manufacturing plant. Activities are planned to assure young and old will leave with not only a “smile” from the fun but also a sense of “pride” for America’s achievements.
If you go:
Best Western Greenfield Inn, 3000 Enterprise Drive, Allen Park, MI 48101 313 271-1600; www.bestwesterngreenfield.com
Detroit Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau, 211 W. Fort Street, Suite, 1000, Detroit, MI 48226; DETROIT (313.338.7648); www.visitdetroit.com
The Henry Ford, 20900 Oakwood Blvd., Dearborn, MI 48124-5029; 313.982.6001 or 800.835.5237; www.thehenryford.org