Building them slow in Romeo

Ford's Romeo, MI, engine plant began its life building tractors for Ford in 1973, before changing over to engine assembly in 1987.

Ford's Romeo, MI, engine plant began its life building tractors for Ford in 1973, before changing over to engine assembly in 1987. In 1995, five years after the main assembly plant began production of Ford's Modular V8, the old tractor parts warehouse was outfitted for niche engine assembly. For nine years it built the SVT Mustang Cobra engines, but that model is on hiatus until 2006. The Romeo niche line currently builds the Ford GT's 550-hp 5.4-liter supercharged V8.

The changeover has reduced the number of engines on the line from the previous 40 to a total of nine. This number includes the three two-man engine assembly teams, a full-time head assembler and "floating" person that works two full days a week on head assembly. "When we were at full production in the Cobra engine," says Mike Eller, team manager, Niche Engine Line, "we had more two-man teams and less time between operations." With the GT engine, assembly averages 2.5 hours per engine with 5.5 minutes/station and a 30-second transfer time between each of the 20 stations. Nine GT engines—three per team—are produced per day at full volume.

The cast-alloy blocks are supplied four to a palette by Ford's Engine Manufacturing Development Operations (EMDO) in Allen Park, MI, while the crankshaft is machined at Ford's Essex Plant in Windsor, Canada, with secondary operations carried out by Norton Mfg. Co. (Fostoria, OH). Although they arrive at the plant with complete data sheets, the block and crank bearing surfaces are re-measured at Romeo. This allows the computerized equipment to select a numerically and color-coded bearing for each position in order to keep tolerances within the allowed 0.001-in. measurement, including stack-up. "The whole process amounts to factory blueprinting," says Eller.

The same care is taken during head assembly, which takes place on a satellite line that runs parallel to the niche line's short block assembly sequence. Once the heads are assembled to the short block, the line turns 180º, running the now long block GT engines parallel and opposite to their initial direction of travel. Long block assembly is completed with the installation of the timing chain; front cover; oil pan, pump and filter; intake manifold (shipped to the line complete with fuel rails and supercharger); spark plugs and wires; etc. Each engine is then run through a phalanx of checks on a cold-test stand. Why no hot testing? "We get more accurate readings with less wear from the cold-test procedure," says Eller. As with all of the engines that have come off the niche line, each GT engine is fitted with a plaque signed by its engine build team.—CAS