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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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