A Bowlful of Cherries

Celebrating Matty and Noah

Underneath the Green

A few years ago, I read about Bill Ford’s plan to completely renovate the Rouge River manufacturing complex (I read his interview with the Green@Work magazine).

Ford Motor Co. was going to build an innovative assembly plant in Dearborn, Michigan, to produce the next generation of its F-150 and Ranger pickups as part of a $2 billion (!) renovation and expansion of the historic Rouge industrial complex. The project would serve as a template for Ford’s attempt to balance advanced, flexible manufacturing practices with environmental sensitivity. Over 1,100 acres, the Ford Rouge Center was the largest industrial complex in the world when it began producing the Model A in 1927.

Ford hired the architects William McDonough + Partners to introduce sustainable environmental practices at the Rouge to improve air and water quality while boosting employee morale and productivity. The assembly plant’s roof would be covered with 10+ acres of sedum, an ivy-like plant, to reduce storm water runoff, convert carbon dioxide into oxygen, and serve as natural insulation. A system of swales, or landscaped ditches, along with retention ponds would clean storm water, and natural plants would clean contaminated soil. Renewable energy sources such as fuel cells and solar cells would be used, and the coal-fired powerhouse would be replaced with a natural gas plant. It was ambitious, grand, and stunning, and there was no way Bill Ford could pull it off. Not after Ford Motor lost more than $5 billion in 2001.

But he did it. And it looks better than advertised. Both articles highlight the environmental design, such as:

  • The living roof, the porous-paved parking lot, and man-made swales slow storm-water runoff and spare the company huge sewer-building expenses.
  • A system that distills paint fumes into hydrogen-rich gas then uses fuel cells to create electricity is projected to save $100,000 a year.
  • The sedum grass growing on the roof insulates the plant, making it as much as 10 degrees more comfortable without installing or running extra heating and coolig equipment.

But the important part is the

showcase of Ford’s flexible manufacturing system that is being installed throughout North America. That’s the part of Ford’s Rouge that has to pay real dividends in terms of better quality, higher productivity, fewer injuries and cheaper, faster changes to models and features that customers will pay for.

Ford is definitely thinking long-term. The up-front investment is higher, but every decision (whether environmental, labor, or manufacturing-related) will save more money in the long run. Now, if only they applied that thinking to the cars and trucks they produced.


Written by Michael

28 Apr 2004 at 1013am

Posted in Misc.

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