TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Mazda Motor Corp. provided Ford Motor Co. with innovative processes that allowed the auto maker to rethink the way it conducts its tool and die operations, says James Morgan, Ford’s director-stamping business unit-engineering, vehicle operations.

Mazda in particular was absolutely key on the tooling end,” Morgan says at the Management Briefing Seminars conference here titled “Manufacturing Strategies and Technologies for Enhancing Global Competitiveness.”

“They’re just outstanding,” he adds.

During its own struggles of five or six years ago, Mazda focused attention on improving its tool and die and stamping engineering processes, “really driving it up front to have an impact on part design,” Morgan says.

“So they were probably a step ahead of us in this whole process, driven by need,” he tells Ward's. “That’s why we learned a lot from them.”

By implementing Mazda’s processes, as well as those gleaned from Volvo Car Corp. and Ford of Europe, Ford’s North American operations were able to cut 45% off die-development lead-time, Morgan says.

Ford anticipates taking “significantly more off from that” in future programs, he says.

To improve the tool and die efficiency, Ford engineers first worked to reduce the number of dies required to produce parts. They also looked to cut the cost and time associated with creating each individual die.

“We’ve been able to make improvements in cost, quality and time by improving nearly every element of the die evaluation scheme and engaging skills of all our team, including (the United Auto Workers union) leadership and suppliers,” Morgan says.

To make such wholesale changes, a cultural change had to take place among Ford tool and die workers that have been doing the job the same way for decades.

“I’m a tool maker originally, (and) we were in sort of a very craft-based manual paradigm for a long time,” Morgan says. “And having come through skilled trades 30 years ago, I can tell you that’s very ingrained and difficult to change.

“And the idea you can actually apply similar manufacturing practices to die making as you can to other things is very foreign,” he adds. “It’s a matter of getting engineering right up front, so you can focus on first-time quality and things like that.”

To drive home the fact change was necessary, Ford made its tool and die workers aware of the best-in-industry practices employed by key competitors such as Toyota Motor Corp.

The realization Ford was falling behind the rest of the world spurred its tool and die teams into action. Today, Morgan says Ford’s efficiency is world class, and its tool and die workers have embraced the new practices fully.

Some of the earliest products resulting from new tool and die procedures and practices include Ford’s trio of midsize sedans – Ford Fusion, Mercury Milan and Lincoln Zephyr, Morgan says.

The upcoming Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX cross/utility vehicles also resulted from the process, now about two years old, he says.

The restructuring of tool and die practices is playing a critical part in the auto maker’s Way Forward North American restructuring strategy.

“We need to shorten our time to market, and we clearly need to improve product freshness,” Morgan says. “Those are priorities of our company. And one of the ways you do that is by shortening die development lead-time, because that’s a long-lead, high-cost item.

“We’re making great strides.”

bpope@wardsauto.com