- Ford’s first electric pickup, the F-150 Lightning, is coming in spring 2022.
- The Blue Oval is building a brand-new facility to assemble the EV in Dearborn, Michigan.
- The plant is packed with new tech like autonomous vehicle carriers, robots, and charging plugs.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Ford is almost done building out a brand-new, state-of-the-art plant where it will assemble the electric F-150 Lightning.
The Blue Oval is still putting the finishing touches on the facility, but I got an early look inside.
The clean-sheet Rouge Electric Vehicle Center comes as part of Ford’s $US700 ($AU952) million investment in its Rouge Complex, where it also manufactures gas-powered F-Series trucks.
The 500,000-square-foot plant will start pumping out F-150 Lightnings closer to the EV’s official delivery date of spring 2022.
For now, Ford is testing out equipment and fine-tuning the manufacturing process.
The truck’s frame and body will get built nearby, and its battery packs will come from another yet-to-be-announced location. This shiny new building is where all those parts will come together into F-150 Lightnings.
F-150 cabs and pickup beds will arrive by conveyor belt with a fresh coat of paint.
From there, they’ll make their way to different stations where workers will add on all the interior and exterior bits that turn these hunks of metal into working trucks.
This big open area will eventually become the staging area for parts.
Partly-built vehicles will move through the factory floor on autonomous electric sleds.
The sleds follow a magnetic track glued into the floor and can sense when a person crosses in front of them.
Each sled has a built-in lift to bring parts to a comfortable height for any given worker or task.
When the sleds are stopped at a station, they gather energy through charging points scattered along their route.
In a conventional plant, the entire assembly line is connected and moves at the same speed. But these sleds can move at different speeds, allowing for more flexibility, Ford says.
Each station has a computer that knows what configuration of truck is up next and tells the worker what they need to do. The vehicle won’t move down the line until the right bolts are fastened and other tasks are completed.
That screen will also notify workers of any changes to production or other updates.
The plant is outfitted with electric tools that sense not only torque, but also strip-outs and cross-threads.
Some more advanced pieces of equipment can shoot in multiple bolts at once, saving workers time and helping them get to hard-to-reach spots, like inside the bed.
What you immediately notice about the plant is that it feels open and airy since so much equipment is up off the ground.
On the other side of the building from where the bodies arrive is the chassis shop, where frames are built up with suspension and other components.
These giant robots pick up a frame and a battery pack and put them together.
Later on, a massive scissor lift drops down, picks up a cab and bed, and plops it down onto a chassis. From there, the nearly completed truck moves onto the final stages of assembly.
Some of the last things to go on and in the vehicle are the wheels and fluids.
This tool tightens down all of a wheel’s lug nuts at once.
At this station, a robotic arm presses down on the truck.
This is how Ford calibrates the truck’s onboard scales, which will measure how much is in the bed for more accurate estimates of battery range.
At the end of the line, a truck rolls through a series of final quality checks.
There’s an automated vehicle inspection booth that uses dozens of cameras to check for any missing or incorrect parts.
Then workers do a visual inspection under bright lights.
Here’s where the water tests happen.
Then there’s one final visual inspection.
The pickups will make one last stop at a charging station to fill up their batteries before heading out the door.