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Site Visit to Romeo Engine Plant
March 23, 1994

A Factory Designed To Use Information Technology

Ford's Romeo engine plant is its newest, having started production in the summer of 1990. Its 750 employees and approximately $1 billion, 3-million-square-foot physical plant make a wide variety of V-8 engines totalling about 2,400 per day. The plant buys about 70 percent (by value) of what it ships and devotes most of its energy to machining engine blocks, pistons, connecting rods, and crank shafts and then assembling everything into a complete tested engine ready to install in a car. Plant manager George Pfeil believes that the plant could not be operated without information technology.

Information technology (IT) exerts its effects in two ways: by empowering people and by organizing the flow of people and parts. This is a very clean and highly automated plant with a large number of robots performing assembly and thousands of feet of conveyor lines moving parts through a series of machining operations. IT permits a relatively small number of people to keep all these machines running and all the complex operations on track. For example, one line for machining engine blocks is 2,500 feet long and is operated by 8 people per shift. In older plants without extensive IT, 30 people would be needed.

When the plant was designed in the late 1980s, IT was a central part of the design. The plant was equipped with a network of what Pfeil calls "white courtesy phones," which are actually input/output consoles on which all production information is available to all employees. Similarly, the controllers of the machines were wired into these consoles as well as into a pager system so that machine stoppages could be recorded and the responsible person paged automatically.



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Page 165 B— Site Visit to Romeo Engine Plant March 23, 1994 A Factory Designed To Use Information Technology Ford's Romeo engine plant is its newest, having started production in the summer of 1990. Its 750 employees and approximately $1 billion, 3-million-square-foot physical plant make a wide variety of V-8 engines totalling about 2,400 per day. The plant buys about 70 percent (by value) of what it ships and devotes most of its energy to machining engine blocks, pistons, connecting rods, and crank shafts and then assembling everything into a complete tested engine ready to install in a car. Plant manager George Pfeil believes that the plant could not be operated without information technology. Information technology (IT) exerts its effects in two ways: by empowering people and by organizing the flow of people and parts. This is a very clean and highly automated plant with a large number of robots performing assembly and thousands of feet of conveyor lines moving parts through a series of machining operations. IT permits a relatively small number of people to keep all these machines running and all the complex operations on track. For example, one line for machining engine blocks is 2,500 feet long and is operated by 8 people per shift. In older plants without extensive IT, 30 people would be needed. When the plant was designed in the late 1980s, IT was a central part of the design. The plant was equipped with a network of what Pfeil calls "white courtesy phones," which are actually input/output consoles on which all production information is available to all employees. Similarly, the controllers of the machines were wired into these consoles as well as into a pager system so that machine stoppages could be recorded and the responsible person paged automatically.

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Page 166 Even though several U.S. and foreign companies built the machining and assembly lines, all used a common Programmable Logic Control (PLC) system specified by Ford and linked their machines to it. There are no first-line supervisors, and shop floor personnel are expected to answer the pagers and keep their machines operating. In a typical day there are between 12,000 and 16,000 manual and automatic pages. In this way IT enables the shop floor personnel to take command of the machinery, keep it running, and make the necessary decisions to do so. The United Auto Workers Union is fully involved and supports this method of operation. Clearly, such a system could not have been overlaid onto a previously designed factory. Designers thought through how this factory would be linked by IT as part of their operating philosophy and human relations strategy, and IT was up and running the day production started. Pfeil says in retrospect that it was not easy explaining to upper management why this kind of plant needed so much IT, but the designers did it anyway. Today the benefits can be accounted for both qualitatively and quantitatively: • A small number of spirited union employees can turn out a very large number of engines; it is a "world-class operation." • Statistics on "things gone wrong per thousand [engines]" in the first 6 months after the launch of a new engine reveal and average of over 150 on typical launches in the 1980s versus 37 on the first Romeo launch in 1991 and 41 on the second in 1993. How Information Technology Is Used In addition to the white courtesy phones, IT is used in several other ways at the Romeo engine plant. For example: • In the tool crib, an electronic display indicates how to set up each tool and adjust it for proper alignment prior to installing it on a machine. • Each time an engine must be diverted from the assembly line for minor rework, the operator records the cause and the remedy; that engine is then tracked in the warranty system after it is sold to see if any unusual problems arise. • A bar code on each engine tells the cold test machine what equipment is on the engine so that the correct test can be used. • When the cylinder head is bolted to the block, the bolt torque is sensed and recorded. • A Machine Monitoring System keeps track of equipment status. According to the plant newspaper, 598 machines are monitored and 15,000 items are recorded each minute. Each time a machine, robot, or conveyor stops, the PLC deduces the cause from sensors and the state of the control logic; the cause is recorded and accumulated with other causes to form the basis for the reports

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Page 167   described below. Pfeil notes that accurate data of this kind are essential and cannot be gathered by people, who tend not to notice short stoppages (the vast majority) and cannot always be present when breakdowns occur to note their cause. • Each week performance data on each section of the plant accumulated by the PLCs are collected and packaged into Pareto charts that identify bottleneck stations and the top 10 reasons for their failing to keep up; recent data are compared to 7-week trends so that plant personnel can tell if they are making progress in improving uptime; these reports are available to all employees on the white courtesy phone consoles. The bottleneck is identified by a formula that compares theoretical with actual output, adjusted for faults on other machines. Pfeil decided long ago that people are poor judges of which machine is the bottleneck. Scheduling is currently done using manufacturing resources planning (MRPII), but Pfeil is searching for better methods that take account of constraints. A mathematician by training, he is familiar with such methods as linear programming and OPT (a commercial factory scheduling program that takes constraints like machine capacity into account). Pfeil notes that any success in Kaizen (continuous improvement) will ''cause the bottleneck to move around." That is, as one machine's capacity is increased or a breakdown is fixed, the bottleneck will by definition shift to the next slowest or most constrained machine. Scheduling software must be capable of being easily reprogrammed to keep up, or else the schedules will rapidly become useless. Currently reprogramming is not possible, or it takes so long (typically hours) that the situation has changed already. Frank Keene, Cast Iron Block Machining Line manager, notes that by 1996 there will be a step increase in production complexity as the California emission standards begin to take effect. Managing all the machines, parts, and people will become increasingly difficult. An important problem is reconfiguring the plant to make a different-model engine. This requires shifting people from one area to another, an action that can take 30 to 45 minutes. Right now he has no accurate way of predicting how many people will be needed for each type or how long it will take to move them. Thus there is some waste in plant operations that must be eliminated in order to absorb the expected increase in complexity. Training For Use Of Information Technology Training is essential to the success of the Romeo plant. It is such a strong part of the plant's culture that Pfeil teaches one of the courses, called Productivity 201. Training starts with operation of the white courtesy phones and proceeds to sensitize the employees to the importance of keeping the plant running. Basic to this is building an appreciation of the value of the data that can be obtained via the white courtesy phones. These data include the Pareto charts and other data. Productivity 201 and other courses utilize a simulation of a typical line written in

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Page 168 Witness (a commercial package for simulating discrete events) by a professor from the University of Detroit. A sample class exercise asks the students to look at the Pareto chart, identify the causes of downtime, and schedule preventive maintenance. When the simulation is complete, the students can see if productivity has increased. This and similar exercises help teams to develop better problem-solving methods and improve team dynamics. Employees do not use this system to help them decide how to schedule actual preventive maintenance. However, Pfeil and his staff use it to plan production a week ahead as well as to see if their plans produce the anticipated production of all the required varieties of engines. Although basic training of new employees is done using company-wide course material, Romeo found that it had to generate its own advanced training curricula. Topics include such business issues as preventive maintenance (discussed above), quality, basic finance, and productivity. Interestingly, although other plants are copying the approach of using the white courtesy phones, Romeo's training materials are not being widely used in other Ford plants. What Needs To Be Improved In addition to shortcomings in scheduling algorithms, Pfeil notes that user interfaces are too cumbersome and take too long to learn. They are also too text-oriented. He thinks an interface like that on the Macintosh would be better. (At Project Alpha, Ford's technology transfer operation, David Wood said that they need better "information ergonomics," meaning not only better interfaces but also better tools for turning data into useful information so that people know what to do.) More broadly, Pfeil feels that advanced factories face huge "sociology problems." The plant is large and the company is even larger. It is difficult for one person to know what to do so that the whole thing improves. Currently, U.S. management uses "incentives" to direct employees' behavior. The problem is that incentives are substitutes for really knowing what action is best. Furthermore, current incentives for hourly employees are not always consistent with those of salaried employees. It would be better if IT could be used to inform all employees about how they were doing and how their personal returns could be improved while those of the company also improved. The white courtesy phones are a step in that direction, but only a first step. In particular, more needs to be learned about how teams operate, how they process data and reach decisions, and how best to present data to them. Productivity 201 demonstrates an intermediate version of what should be the better methods of the future. Since the Romeo plant will face increasing complexity within a very few years, such improvements are needed soon.