LIMA, OH – Ford Motor Co. is preparing to launch its upcoming Duratec 3.7L V-6 here by rigorously educating every employee on the intricacies of the new mill.

Through a partnership with the nearby University of Northwestern Ohio, workers at Ford’s Lima engine plant undergo an arduous 2-day class teaching them how to build a complete engine from the ground up, and then tear it down again.

On the line, workers will benefit from automation, making it easier to produce the 1,700-some engines expected to be built daily. Additionally, workers typically will perform only one or two tasks, which may make it seem that teaching them how to build an entire engine by hand is an expensive waste of time.

Not so, says Mike White, an automotive technology instructor at the university who conducts the classes for Ford.

“We’ve developed this program for engine familiarization, so we can take people step by step through how this engine is going to be assembled on the line,” he says. “Not only do we talk about how the part is installed, we tell them what it is, what it does and why it is designed that way.”

The familiarity with the engine architecture makes it easier for line workers to spot defects, keeping quality levels high. In fact, employees are encouraged to stop the line by pressing the red button located at each work station should a defect be detected, says Adrian Price, plant manager.

“We’re really focused on standardized work, everybody understanding their task on the process, understanding the importance of doing things in sequence,” he tells Ward’s. “And that supports the whole architecture of our assembly process, which is based on no-faults forward.”

To date, about 300 of Lima’s 670 workers have completed the course, and all will have finished it when production of the 3.7L begins next spring, Price says.

Visual inspections by line workers are just the first line of defense against quality issues.

Seven robotic quality check systems are placed strategically along the assembly line, and if a defect is detected, the engine is taken off line where it is disassembled and analyzed for what went wrong. Once the problem is determined, remaining parts not deemed defective are returned to the assembly line to be reused.

“Typically, what you find with competitors is they have six to seven people that think they know how to fix engines, like garage mechanics if you like,” Price says. “So those guys go to work with their wrenches and figure out what the issue is, and the engine goes back in the process.

“If we find (a defect), we actually tear the engine apart; we don’t try and fix it,” he says. “What we find, and what we see in competitive vehicles, is where they do fixes during the process is where they inject quality issues.”

If a defective engine does make its way through the assembly process and into a vehicle, extensive parts coding enables a great degree of “trace-ability.”

“We can trace back a cylinder head and (determine) what machines it went through on what day and what time in the process,” Price says. “That allows us to put quarantines in the system. So if a supplier calls us up and says, ‘We think we’ve got a problem,’ we can stop that batch of cylinder heads being loaded into our process.”

The 3.7L will land first in the upcoming ’09 Lincoln MKS sedan, and will serve as the basis for Ford’s direct-injection, turbocharged engine family tentatively called TwinForce.

The MKS will receive a version of TwinForce about a year after launch, Ford says. Additionally, the mill will make its way into the upcoming Flex cross/utility vehicle, sources say.

Meanwhile, Lima completed the build-out of the outgoing 3.0L V-6 engine earlier this year, Price says. Some engines remain in inventory at the Lima plant and will be installed in Ranger pickups built at Ford’s Twin Cities, MN, facility.

Once the supply of 3.0L engines is depleted, the Ranger will be available only with a 4.0L V-6 engine.

bpope@wardsauto.com