Workers at Ford’s new plant welcoming ‘Job 1’ for the new Ford Focus recently
Ford Motor Company’s second plant in Thailand – Ford Thailand Manufacturing (FTM) – recently had its official opening with the roll-out of the all-new Ford Focus. The US$450 million plant is wholly-owned by Ford and complements the joint-venture (with Mazda) AAT plant nearby which began operations in 1998 and currently builds the Ranger and Fiesta models as well as the Mazda2 and BT50.
Situated in the Eastern Seaboard Industrial Estate which is something like a ‘Detroit of the East’ due to its concentration of automotive-related industries, the new 200,000-sq metre plant will be able to produce up to six different models simultaneously. Such flexibility to build a diverse range of vehicles is important as Ford plans to introduce 8 all-new global One Ford vehicles to the ASEAN region by 2015.
“The opening of this new, world-class facility is the latest example in our aggressive growth plan for this region, which represents Ford’s largest industrial expansion in half-a-century,” said Joe Hinrichs, President of Ford Asia-Pacific and Africa. “The world-class One Ford vehicles produced here will be part of our plan to launch 50 new vehicles and powertrains in Asia-Pacific and Africa by mid-decade.”
He added that FTM is Ford’s second plant in Thailand, and one of eight new Ford manufacturing facilities across the Asia-Pacific and Africa region the company will open by 2015 as part of its aggressive global expansion. Along with China and India, Thailand serves as one of the key global production and export hubs for Ford and FTM will be starting off with an initial production capacity of 150,000 vehicles.
Ford has been a major automotive investor in Thailand since the 1990s when it established the AAT plant with Mazda and since 2007, the company has been Thailand’s largest automotive investor, having invested more than US$1.5 billion to continually expand its local operations. Overall, Ford is the second largest automotive investor in the country, with cumulative investments totalling more than $2.5 billion. Ford and Mazda’s total joint investment in the AAT plant has been nearly US$2 billion since operations began in 1995 and the two companies invested a further US$27 million this year to boost capacity.
“No other automotive manufacturer has invested more in Thailand over the last five years than Ford Motor Company. We are clearly here for the long-run,” said Peter Fleet, President of Ford ASEAN.
FTM has the potential to support up to 11,000 new jobs, including 2,200 direct jobs with Ford and 8,800 indirect jobs through its supplier and dealer networks. Economic contributions also include the purchase of up to US$800 million worth of components locally through Thailand’s automotive manufacturing supplier network.
FTM is a fully-integrated production facility which does body stamping, body assembly, paint, trim and final assembly, using state-of-the-art automation that showcases Ford’s global manufacturing processes and systems. This includes one of the world’s fastest stamping presses which has a rate of 15 shots a minute and takes just 6 minutes to change a die. To achieve high-speed production, 104 robots are used in the Body Shop.
The plant uses a rotational dipping system
which is more effective for coating
the bare metal and also saves space
Further along the line, in the Paint Shop, the dipping process is also unique (the first wholly-owned Ford plant to have it at this time) in that rotational dip technology is used. Unlike conventional dipping processes where the bodyshell travels horizontally through a long tank of primer paint, the system at FTM flips the bodyshell over 360 degrees (like tumbling forward) as it goes through the tank. Besides achieving a more uniform coating of primer paint, the process also allows the tank to be more compact.
The paint shop utilizes Ford’s environmentally-friendly and revolutionary Three-Wet high-solids paint process, which improves paint quality, depth and durability, and significantly reduces volatile organic compounds, CO2 emissions and waste. 16 robots spray on the colour and clear coats and with recirculation of air, and recovering heat energy from the oven exhaust, the Paint Shop is able to return massive water, energy and environment savings.
The parts suppliers are located in the same industrial estate or in other parts of Thailand and for those nearby, delivery of modules is done on a just-in-time basis whereby production schedules are broadcast and the modules sent to the line within hours for each specific unit being assembled.
FTM does not have a CKD (completely knocked-down) section to supply CKD packs to assembly plants in other countries. The intention is to fully utilize the capacity available to make cars and achieve the most efficient economies of scale for lower production costs.
Besides FTM and AAT, Ford also has another plant in the Philippines. It makes the Escape (as well as the second generation Focus until recently) and Mazda3 and its future has not been decided. The plant began making the Escape about 10 years ago after Ford cancelled plans to make Malaysia a regional production hub for the model when the Malaysian government refused to open its auto sector according to the schedule set for the AFTA (ASEAN Free Trade Area).
With FTM now operational, Ford’s annual capacity in Thailand will rise to 445,000 units. After the Focus, it is known that the next model the plant will make will be the Ecosport SUV. The other models have not been revealed but Mr, Fleet, the Ford ASEAN President, said that the lapse between new models launched in Europe would not be as long as with the new Focus. He explained that due to the financial crisis a few years ago, the launch timing was delayed till the middle of 2012 (the new Focus went on sale in Europe in early 2011.