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My Trip To The Louisville Assembly Plant, Home Of The Explorer

Discussion in 'Exploring everything under the sun!!' started by NICE59FORDF100, June 23, 2007.

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  1. NICE59FORDF100

    NICE59FORDF100 Staff Member Moderator Elite Explorer

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    Yellow sparks blanketing the air. Electrical bits and bites surround you. Employees swarming around their patient as the gurney moves along a line of metal and paint. One would think I am talking about the newest episode of the award winning show E.R., but I am in fact describing a matter of more meticulous accuracy-an automotive assembly plant.
    Over 11 million new vehicles were sold last year and most people wouldn't give a second thought about the process of how their appliance is manufactured. What most people don't realize is the manufacturing process is crucial to one's basic survival in this time and age. Ipods, radios, refrigerators and many more of these mechanical wonders simplify and entertain our lives. But without the quality control, mass production and low cost these items would never see the light or day or last one for any case.
    I recently had an opportunity to visit one such place of creation. Outside Louisville, Kentucky is a place that some would consider a rival to Moses's anti-false god commandment. I am of course speaking of the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant. Built in 1955, this plant has created vehicles from the best-selling to the condemned. Edsels, LTD's, the F-series, Rangers, Bronco II's and the current 4th generation Explorer and Sport Trac. Having owned an Explorer for over 5 years now, I decided it was time to make the 844 mile pilgrimage to this automotive Mecca and see the plant in operation for myself.
    As I came across the 400+ acre plant, it empowers and intimidates at the same time. One doesn't grasp the shear size of such a place and why it is that way. Over 80 Explorers are created every hour and once inside you see the dedicated planning and man-power it takes for such efficiency to be achieved.
    Walking inside the front lobby tells me that the employees and UAW are humble in their valiant efforts by displaying only a select few awards and plaques they have received for quality. 16X24 action shots of the Explorer are framed predominantly inside. Brand loyalty is never highest but in a place like this.
    I met my contact for the morning at 9:00 for the history and a tour of the plant. He looked jolly and caring but tired in his years of wisdom and experience. Nevertheless, he was as excited as I was to be there and after 30 years that is rare in it's own fashion. He took me through the locked frosted doors leading from the lobby into a seamless hallway filled with production worker photos, press releases, and framed artifacts from the plant's past. This could have been put on for the public aspect of the plant, but being as dedicated as I am, I consider such things trivial.
    After a brief discussion about the plant and the most recent rumors flying around, I was handed a pair of safety glasses and was led of out the hallway of memories and into the bright sunlight outside a main entrance of the plant itself. Not even inside yet, one could already hear the whine and whirls of air wrenches and robots moving about in a fixed home of constant movement. How many chances does one human get to witness the birth of life-albeit a mechanical life.
    Once inside everything is a constant buzz inside your head. Forklifts and bicycles were driving and riding to an unseen destination. Ordered chaos is an overwhelming understatement. One would never be able to see all the plant from one point of view, but rather bits and fragments of the overall production process. Batches of grey Explorers fly over you followed by a batch of red Explorers and so on. Yet another model of efficiency. Why waste three seconds cleaning a spray gun for a different color when you could save that three seconds and apply it towards better quality. Hours of thought at play here.
    The tour began with the finished product, a rolling masterpiece with many artists. A white Eddie Bauer Explorer sat with the driver door open, awaiting the first turn of the key. Waiting to live and breathe for the very first time. Behind it were many more Explorers, each awaiting one more piece to be added for the final assembly process. We continued from there to the magical land known as the body shop. It is here the panels are welded together with perfect precision. These five million dollar robots never quit in the job, always applying their best efforts to the patient. Side panels are aligned to the floor pan, and with the slightest hint of a dull rumbling to warn anyone nearby, an eruption of spark illuminates the floor. Another Explorer body is now in existence.
    After the body shop, we explored on (no pun intended) to the part of the plant known simply as Trim. It is here that the Picassos and Da Vincis of the automotive world put together almost everything the customer would never see. Wiring harnesses, nuts and bolts, seating tracks and so forth come together for the first time in trim. As we walk on, I notice that the bodies switch from bare metal to paint and no step in between. I am told the painting steps of phosphate emulsion is a three-hour endeavor and the painted bodies I am seeing above me were painted last night. The doors, hood, and lift gate are temporarily attached to the body for paint and then removed for final assembly just to be brought back together again. Quality certainly is Job 1 around here.
    After trim we moved on to chassis. Here the frames are jigged together and the suspension and driveline are attached. The frame starts life upside-down making it easier to install various sub-systems. Six different frames are used overall for the Explorer line-up and each frame always matches up with its respective body mate. Directly across from chassis are flying engines moving slowly on an overhead conveyor belt. V6's shipped in from Cologne, Germany and V8's built right here in America are shipped 80% completed for installation. The engines moved along their fixed path collecting assorted wire looms and sensors along with the cooling fan.
    A major milestone in the assembly of the best selling SUV for 15 straight years is the pairing of the engine to the chassis. As the upside-down chassis inches forward on it's route, a worker flips it with a hydraulic hook straight out of a horror movie. An assembler attaches a hydraulic lift to the engine and hoists it above the frame, ready for placement. Once everything is lined up, a bottom is pushed, and one would have to strain to here any noise made by the joining. But even with the scary hook that symbolizes death, the frame is ready with its heart and ready for it's new life.
    Final assembly is in view and I am able to catch a glimpse of the entire dash assembly going into the body. A two-man team works together in harmony and the interior is oozing more and more of showroom finish. At this point we witness the biggest challenge and biggest achievement of the entire plant-the pairing of the body and the chassis. A female employee holds a control box in her hand and lines up the body mounts, and just like a woman giving birth, she lowers the body on the frame and the infant Explorer is almost complete. One would not realize the entirety of the symbolic meanings in this cold mechanical building.
    As the tour concludes we view the last movement of the truck inside the plant-under its own power-to the testing facility. It is here the Explorers are tested for all operational functions along with headlight adjustment and water testing. Each vehicle is sprayed with an intense blast of water for a few minutes in every direction. It is here any leaks, if at all, are found and corrected before final shipment. The trucks are cleaned and moved to an outside parking lot to be freighted up and delivered to the dealership. From the first start to finish it takes 23 hours to build an Explorer, but one moves out of the assembly plant every 45 seconds.
    Life is more than just walking breathing animals. Life is what we all make of it. Life is something we all cherish and embrace. Life is also what we have around us all the time. So why is so hard to believe that these Explorers each have their own life? Each one could mean something different to a different person. Even as a logical person that I am, I believe my Explorer has it's own unique story to tell and life to be lived. I believe every vehicle has it's own story to tell, and this trip showed me the beginning of that journey. This trip has showed me how that journey began. This experience has showed me where that journey is going. I should know-my Explorer began life in this very same plant 15 years and 217,000 miles ago. And isn't that what life is all about?
     
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  3. Tbars4

    Tbars4 Moderator Emeritus Elite In Memoriam

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    i read the whole thing....great write up...we should plan a nationwide meet there say next year...wouldn't that be something, wow...:D
     
  4. NICE59FORDF100

    NICE59FORDF100 Staff Member Moderator Elite Explorer

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    Thats actually not a bad idea...I know the sport trac guys have done it, but Ive been thinking a nation wide meet at the plant for a couple of years now. Lets see what a few more members think and maybe I can pull some strings up north in detroit and get something going...
     
  5. Flounder

    Flounder Owns 10,000 Marbles Elite Explorer Moderator Emeritus

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    Great write-up. I made it to the '06 Nat'l Sport Trac meet there. I'll have to post the photos and videos from inside the plant. It really is quite amazing.
     
  6. Gator Jeff

    Gator Jeff Elite In Memoriam

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    Great write up! How did you get access?

    On the meet idea, we'd better act fast considering that our beloved Explorer will soon become a CUV. Actually though, that could lead to a great idea. Have a huge meet as the last Explorers roll off the line. I'm sure if there are enough of us, we'd have examples of every Explorer made and of course some great modified ones as well. Could make for some great media coverage.
     
  7. techieman33

    techieman33 Explorer Addict

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    I doubt ford would see a bunch of us showing up as the last ones rolled off as a good thing, they probably wouldn't let us anywhere near the plant.
     
  8. NICE59FORDF100

    NICE59FORDF100 Staff Member Moderator Elite Explorer

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    well, a little inisde info i found out at the plant. yesterday was the last day for the 07 model year of the explorer. after a couple of weeks of re-tooling, they will begin the 08 model year (with revised door panels). I was thinking if we did a meet, we could plan on the week of june 16th-20th sometime in 08, when the last 08 models roll of the line (hypothetically).
     
  9. Tbars4

    Tbars4 Moderator Emeritus Elite In Memoriam

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    I would be game if the ef crew wanted to make this a national meet...what a blast and the group shot would be awesome...a sea of X's....that wouldn't be all that bad a time of year for gas prices either....Maybe even get some camping, fishing, and wheeling in too....:D
     
  10. Burns

    Burns Elite Explorer Moderator Emeritus

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    Im game. Lets get this started....
     
  11. Stic-o

    Stic-o Elite Movie Star Elite Explorer

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    How hard is it to get a tour of the plant? We Have a warehouse in Elizabethtown, and we fly into Louisville, when ever we go. I'd love to see the plant next time I'm there;)
     
  12. Tbars4

    Tbars4 Moderator Emeritus Elite In Memoriam

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    but wouldn't you want to see it with a bunch of other explorers???
     
  13. Flounder

    Flounder Owns 10,000 Marbles Elite Explorer Moderator Emeritus

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  14. Tbars4

    Tbars4 Moderator Emeritus Elite In Memoriam

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    hmmm, look at all those pretty motors...i want one....:D
     
  15. dtl 2k2 sport

    dtl 2k2 sport Well-Known Member

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    Great write up, great story telling as well. Some is a creative writer in this group! I'm in for a meet as well, I hate to travel but i think it would be a great time! I'm looking at possibly getting a new explorer anyways so might be a great road trip. Any info on a new cross over disscusion at the plant? Or any other interesting bits of info?? :) Are you ready to trade in the old for the new??
     

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