It takes a lot of work to build our official Ultimate Adventure vehicle every year. We have to add big tires, recovery gear, body armor, a rollcage, and all the various and sundry tools, food, storage, and navigational equipment to lead our charge. Plus, we usually do this buildup in a matter of months (roughly three).
In contrast, building a vehicle at the OEM level requires an enormous amount of work. There’s all the design and engineering involved in developing a concept that will fulfill customer demands. It takes time to make that concept into a production vehicle that will actually work, then more time figuring out how to build it profitably.
We started this year’s buildup by touring the Rouge Assembly Plant in Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford builds F-150s. This plant has been in use by Ford Motor Company since 1917 when Henry Ford was producing anti-submarine ships for the military. Over the years it has made everything from military supplies like Ford jeeps, tanks, and boats to tractors and eventually many V-8 cars and trucks including the ’54-’57 Thunderbird, ’64-’04 Mustang, and ’04-to-present F-150.
The modern automotive assembly plant is an amazing invention brought to light by Henry Ford’s foresight and ingenuity. The EcoBoost engine 3.5Ltwin turbo direct injection V6 continues that cunning by taking simple properties and applying them in a new way for a more efficient and ecological result. For example, Henry Ford used to recycle the shipping crates as wooden firewalls in Model Ts. Nowadays the Rogue Factory has the largest green living roof, a roof that is covered in plants and is used to filter rainwater and support a cleaner manufacturing facility with a more green footprint. The EcoBoost follows that same line: build something that is environmentally sound (better fuel economy) but that still performs well enough to make a strong business case.
In upcoming issues we’ll showcase how we transform this truck into the Ultimate F-150, a truck capable of leading our adventure, while using tried and true components in new ways.
Go There Yourself
The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn conducts tours to the factory. Not only will you get to see plenty of amazing historical displays on all makes and models at the museum, but you can go see new F-150s being built. If you can’t make it in person, check out the video of our trip at goo.gl/aSwpS.
The 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 engine option for the new F-150 offers 420 lb-ft of torque and 365 hp, all while sustaining an EPA fuel mileage rating of 15 mpg city, 21 highway in a SuperCab 4x4. The engine uses two turbochargers and direct fuel injection similar to a diesel engine, but retains spark plugs like a gas engine.
Modern assembly lines, such as the Rogue Factory where the F-150 is built, are amazing. The assembly line is simple enough: A vehicle moves along on a big conveyor belt, and at each station the workers install a few parts. The tricky part is all the logistics. Suppliers must have parts delivered almost daily to supply the trucks being built that day, and they must be in the correct order to improve efficiency. Unlike in Henry Ford’s day when you could get any color you wanted as long as it was black, now there are many options available when ordering a new F-150. A red regular cab may be followed by a black SuperCab and then followed by a Raptor, but this is all decided weeks in advance so the assembly line is prepped with parts in the correct order.
Ford has taken many ergonomic steps to improve worker wellbeing. For example, the “skillet” that each vehicle rides automatically rises or lowers depending on the worker’s height and the job at hand. DC electric tools reduce stress on the operator and keeps track of both the number of rotations and the final torque applied to a fastener, making it nearly impossible for parts to be forgotten or misinstalled.
To assist in quick assembly, large armatures help swing into place and align major components. This step installs the radiator and fuse box components in the engine bay quickly with just six fasteners after aligning special dowels in slots of the hydro-formed body structure.
While the cab and bed are painted together and then separated and sent down various lines to be fitted with interior components and electrical, the chassis in another part of the plant is getting a drivetrain. The frame comes in upside-down and receives the suspension first, then gets flipped over. The engine, transmission, and transfer case are dropped in place simultaneously. Eventually the body and frame are united in a large elevator-type cage where everything drops together.
The Rogue F-150 plant has the ability to build almost 1,000 trucks a day. Its 3,500 employees are split amongst three crews working 4- to 10-hour shifts. The 2.3 million square-foot factory puts out trucks with four engine options, three cab options, two bed sizes, multiple colors and interior options, and either two- or four-wheel drive. Even then, random vehicles are still pulled for more stringent inspection to verify complete and proper assembly. These quality checks and the multitude of offerings have helped Ford maintain the top-selling truck position for nearly 35 years.
Here it is, our new blue Ford (not to be confused with BluFerd, our old blue Ford). It’s a Blue Flame ’11 EcoBoost F-150 SuperCab. It is an XLT series with a 145-inch wheelbase, cloth interior, a six-speed automatic, 17-inch aluminum wheels, four-wheel drive, and a selectable rear differential. We opted for the trailer towing package with integrated brake controller, 3.73 gears, and off-road skidplates, but otherwise it’s a pretty basic truck. We have big plans for this new blue oval, but that will have to wait till next month.