TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Ford is hiring about 250 people this year for its purchasing department as it increases production capacity, many of them to assure parts quality and offer technical assistance to suppliers.

“We want to make sure we can make every car we can sell,” says Birgit Behrendt, recently promoted to vice president-global programs and purchasing operations.

Ford’s addition of 400,000 units of vehicle-production capacity in 2012 and 200,000 more this year has strained the supply base, Behrendt says at the Management Briefing Seminars here.

Suppliers need to add capacity to match Ford’s demand, so there are questions of investment and process. Without offering numbers, she says that in December the “watch list” of suppliers monitored nearly reached its peak and since has been cut in half.

“We would not compromise quality for volume,” Behrendt says. “That’s not a price that we would pay.

“We haven’t seen extreme problems,” but many of the new employees will be working with suppliers on the quality side and making more visits to supplier plants as a preventive measure.

In North America, she says, a number of suppliers really are stretching themselves to meet capacity demands.

In Europe, where production volumes have dropped significantly, Ford’s purchasing team is monitoring the health of its suppliers closely and a risk-management process has been put into place should a supplier fail, she says. “But so far, knuckles on wood, we haven’t seen anyone drop out yet.”

Behrendt says she meets often with supplier CEOs, and that the personal relationships established are important to success. In addition, she credits continuity in leadership at Ford’s product-development and purchasing departments for allowing the auto maker to add capacity without causing supply-sector problems.

With the 600,000 units added in two years, she says, “we will be sweating our assets and squeezing out every unit we can.”

Ford’s North American capacity will be at its maximum, and future improvements will be made in small steps such as boosting line speeds, Behrendt says.