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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

Last updated on: June 25, 2010 12:49 IST

How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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Shobha Warrier at the Ford factory in Chennai

The Ford car plant at Maraimalai Nagar is about an hour's journey from Chennai. A visit to a car plant can be exciting for both the car enthusiasts and a lay person.

With the special shoes to be worn compulsorily (normal footwear is not allowed), ear plugs firmly fitted and goggles in place, one is ready for the journey through the plant where Ford's new small size car, Figo, is being made.

The journey started where there are rolls of sheet metal with a gantry crane. The 3mm metal is where the 'dream' car takes shape, and it all starts when the rolls are put in the huge stamping and press machine by the crane.

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Image: Rolls of sheet metal ready to be taken to the stamping and press machine.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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Once inside the machine, the metal roll is uncoiled and washed to remove even the faintest traces of dust or dirt.

Then the machine cuts the metal into blanks and, inside the next machine, these blanks are stamped into various shapes for car parts like the doors, bonnets, roof, and side panels.

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Image: The stamped and pressed part of the car body comes out of the machine.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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From the stamping machine, the parts come out to be stacked and taken to the next stage.

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Image: Stamped parts of the body are stacked for the next stage.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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The factory has, both, high-tech ABB robots* and people working alongside. Almost all the welding is done by robots and quite naturally they do the work very fast.

Naturally, we got attracted to the work done by robots in welding the side panels. With extreme precision, we saw the arms of the orange robots going around the side panels and both the inside and outside panels of the door are welded together in seconds.

It is impossible for a human being to match the speed and precision with which a robot does the work. We were thoroughly impressed.

*ABB is a leading supplier of industrial robots, modular manufacturing systems and service.

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Image: Robots at work.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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Next is the Body Shop.

This is where all the metal parts that were stamped in the earlier stage are put together to form the shell of the car.

Starting with the under body, the side panels, the roof and, finally, the bonnet.

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Image: Shell of the car is ready.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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From the body shop, the welded car body goes to the paint shop.

We were told that the technology used inside the paint shop is state-of-the-art -- 'three-wet high solids system', as they call it.

Inside the paint shop,  primer, base coat and top coat are applied by painting robots.

Earlier, the shell was baked after applying the primer, and only after that the base coat and top coat were applied. This was followed by another round of baking.

In the new technology, all the three coats are applied one on top of the other, when it is still wet. It is then baked only once.

Experts at the factory told us that because of the technology involved, the paint is more durable, and it is more 'stone chip resistant'. It also cuts volatile organic emission by 30 per cent and is more environment friendly.

Unfortunately, we were not allowed inside the paint shop. We stood outside the paint shop to see the  shells of the cars coming out in shining colours. The red car will be Fiesta soon.

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Image: Shells of cars come out of the paint shop, all painted in shining bright colours.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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Before we move to the next step in the factory, let us talk about the engine.

Ford India has a new engine plant. Before this came into existence, Ford was either importing or outsourcing its engines.

These are made in the engine factory and then sent to the plant where the body is made.

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Image: Inside the engine plant.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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Back to the car plant.

The sparklingly, coloured car shells that have come out of the paint shop move to the next stop on an assembly line.

Engines and suspensions are fitted from below the car body.

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Image: Engine being fitted.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at Chennai plant

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Next the instrument panel (dashboard), seats, window glasses, and pulley mechanism for the power windows are fitted manually. The wheels are fitted here.

The car comes down now and the wheel bolts are tightened.

Next is filling in all the fluids like the air-conditioner coolant, engine oil, fuel, et cetera from a centralised filling station.

This is followed by manual checking or the visual inspection of the car to check that all the parts are in place. Then the vehicle goes for wheel and head light alignment.

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Image: Assembly line.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at Chennai plant

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All checked, the vehicles go to a squeak and rattle test track. Yes, this is to find out whether they squeak or rattle.

They come back to a wash booth with simulated heavy rainfall and checked for leaks. They then roll out. This car still carries the check sheets on it.

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Image: Cars rolling out.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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How Ford builds its cars at the Chennai plant

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The final check is CAL -- or customer acceptance level -- to see whether the vehicle meets what customer expectations.

And voila, the car is ready for you!


Image: The dream car is now ready.
Photographs: Sreeram Selvaraj
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