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Ford's Chicago Plant: Home of the Police Interceptors


Taurus-based Sedan Police Interceptor and Explorer-based Utility Police Interceptor are as American-made as they come.

The standard engine comes from Lima, Ohio, while the optional engine comes from Cleveland, Ohio. The transmission is made in Sterling Heights, Mich. The engineering and development for both police vehicles is based in Dearborn, Mich. The sheetmetal is made in one Chicago, Ill., plant and the final assembly is in another Chicago, Ill. facility.

Police Fleet Manager

recently toured the massive Chicago Assembly Plant, also called the Torrance Avenue Assembly Plant, on Chicago’s South Side. The plant currently produces the Ford Taurus / Taurus SHO, Ford Explorer, Lincoln MKS, Sedan Police Interceptor and Utility Police Interceptor. The Chicago Stamping Plant, 13 miles away, produces 95% of the metal stampings for the Chicago Assembly Plant.

The number of employees at the plant, both hourly and salary, is doubling to around 2,500 as the new second shift ramps up to produce the NextGen 2011 retail Explorer and the upcoming 2012 Utility Police Interceptor. The plant, which covers 113 acres, has more than two million square feet under one roof.

The Chicago Assembly Plant is Ford’s oldest continually-operating manufacturing facility—and it’s now among Ford’s most modern facilities. Plant production started in 1924 with the Model T, and then switched to the Model A in 1928. During World War II, the plant produced armored cars for the Army.

The plant was extensively upgraded to flexible-manufacturing, just-in-time production in 2004 to produce the 2005 Ford Five Hundred, Ford Freestyle and Mercury Montego. In 2008, these D3-platform vehicles were rebadged as the Taurus, Taurus X and Sable, respectively. This plant has produced the mid-1960s F-100 pickup, the early-1970s Ford Galaxie/LTD, and the early-1980s Ford Granada. This plant is the home of the style-setting 1986 Taurus.

The plant has been the recipient of “Best in Ford” awards. In the JDPower Initial Quality Study, they achieved the “Best” in the large car segment for launch of the Five Hundred / Montego. Prior to this, no assembly plant has ever achieved this distinction in its first year of production.

Flexible (lean) manufacturing means a lot of things. Among them is the ability to fully sequence the delivery of all the assemblies and components. In-line vehicle sequencing means they can produce a white Utility Police Interceptor, followed by a red Lincoln MKS, followed by a black Taurus SHO, followed by a blue Sedan Police Interceptor.

Just-in-time production means the plant has just two hours of parts or sub-assemblies on the assembly line at any one point in time. This keeps the cost of inventory low, increases the flexibility to change the product mix, and increases the control over quality—smaller groups of parts are easier to track and isolate in the event of non-conforming parts. The production line has a new assembly operation about every 50 feet.

The plant produces about 58 vehicles per hour. On a two shift basis, that is a capacity of about 225,000 sedans and crossovers per year. The plant is generally divided into four sections: body, pint, chassis (large parts) and trim (small parts). At any one point in time, there are 1,500 vehicles on the assembly line. The average time to make one vehicle from sheetmetal to out the door is 2 1/2 shifts, but individual cars could take up to 4 1/2 shifts.

The two production lines include 13 welding robots each. Each unibody vehicle has about 1,300 body welds. Each weld group has two to seven welds, which is one to two extra welds per group. Every day, two body-in-white vehicles are completely torn down to check weld integrity. This is a destructive test where all of the sheetmetal welds are separated to verify the welds were solid.

The painting process includes an acid etch, a zinc phosphate coat, an electro-coated primer coat, the color base coat then the clear top coat. The vehicle takes 60 minutes to pass through the paint oven, after which the paint is fully cured. After paint, the hood, trunk lid and doors are removed from the vehicle and placed in a sequenced queue. These same exact parts will eventually be assembled on the same body after the interior assembly process.

After the powertrain and driveline are installed and the fluids filled, the vehicle undergoes calibration, alignment and “dynamometer and roadability” tests on its way to final fit and inspection. All of the vehicles undergo a “squeak and rattle” test, a 5 minute water test and complete electrical system tests.

Delivery of the unique, police package 2012 Sedan Police Interceptor and Utility Police Interceptor is expected in very early-2012.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2011

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