Manufacturing cars has always been an absolute men’s field, even before Henry Ford began mass production of the treadmill with the 15-million-series T-model, which “put America on the wheel”. To better appreciate a factory visit to Craiova, let’s take a look at Detroit 100 years ago.
Only one type was made, also in black only, there was no difference between the cars coming one after the other on the assembly line. Ford hired a crowd of simple, unskilled workers who understood nothing about the car – where would they have understood? Depending on their dexterity and dedication, they made quite a few mistakes, so the cars went on. After the assembly line, they were taken to a large workshop where good professionals discovered and repaired the slendrans.
A modern factory
Then take a look at the Ford Craiova. Its history is already interesting as part of the twisted history of European car manufacturing. It opened in 1976 to produce the Romanian Citroën, Oltcit and one or two other models. After the French withdrew, the Korean Daewoo set foot in the plant, Tico, Cielo and Espero rolled off its assembly line, followed by Matiz and Nubira II. Ford took over Automobile Craiova SA from the Romanian government in 2008, production of Transit Connect began for a year, B-Maxé and 1.0 EcoBoost engines in 2012, EcoSport in 2017 and new in 2019. Puma. So they have been manufacturing cars in Craiova for 46 years, during which time the right staff background and supplier network has developed. The engine is exported to Europe and Asia, Puma to the EU, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and EcoSport to the EU and South Africa. Already in the hall of the office building, a Puma is confronted, the one millionth full of workers signing. In 2020, 180,000 cars were completed, that was the peak, with a thousand planned every day this year, which means leaving one by one every 67 seconds. The goal is 1,400 engines a day.
Craiova is not a large car factory, but its total hall area is still one million square meters, which also houses eight supplier companies. The technological equipment meets today’s industry standard: the 4,000 technological processes are served by semi-automatic pressing, 90% automated body welding, 600 robots, several polishing robots, 77 CNC-controlled machining lines, a fully robotic cylinder head assembly and ten cooperating robots. Today, it is no longer the same as it was in Detroit that year: quality is inherent. The whole thing is organized so that every work phase can be executed perfectly.
Each unit has a “Jolly Joker” man trained for all moments who can jump in from his brigade instead of anyone. If a worker discovers something wrong in the car that arrived at him, he is required to pull a hanging cord running between the workstations and the aisle by the time the assembly line stops immediately. Error can’t go on! Of course, there may be a defective part in shipping or any malfunction. The affected car will be parked, repaired and restarted.
I’ve been to many car factories for decades, I have some bases for comparison. It was awful to see the woodworkers who hand-welded the bodies in the poorly lit, oil-soaked wooden floor hall of the Polski Fiat plant in Warsaw, I wouldn’t have bought a car made there. At the other extreme is the Ferrari plant, where you feel like you’re in a palm house, it hardly seems like CNC machines are working in glass cabinets, the silence is perfect. My most interesting experience is due to Ford, they set up exhausts in Transit in Ghent, I became a real car factory worker for a few hours.
It was also planned in Craiova that we, the journalists, would be set to work for a while, we were given safety shoes and gloves, but, perhaps due to the large size of the group, we couldn’t try out real operations, we could just stand there to play something. We sincerely regretted this, but our compensated small train ride, followed by a long walk in the assembly with much more information, with professional guidance. In the end, I wondered how different this factory is from other modern plants, does anything make it special? It was easy to figure out: the Ford Craiova is a women’s car factory!
This field has traditionally been the realm of men, I have not seen ladies at the assembly line or in the management in America, Japan, Turkey, Europe. It would have been as strange as a male nanny in a nursery. We are living in different times today, the EU leadership in perfume expects women to be employed in management positions on a quota, it is forbidden to discriminate on the basis of gender! Even the introductory presentation of the factory visit was given by a lady, Josephine Payne, who is none other than the plant manager! In his presentation, he mentioned that 3,400 of the 6,000 employees have been hired in the last three years to boost production at EcoSport and Puma. Thousands of suppliers are staffed, and 46% of this 7,000-strong army comes from the “weaker sex”. Not only do they work in offices, but they sit at the wheel of forklifts hovering in the aisles, they are involved in assembling the cars.
I watched everything closely. There is no need for physical effort anywhere, but rather dexterity, devotional attention, in which the ladies are notoriously good. For example, in one of the working positions, cables must be placed under the top of the body without the internal covers. It is not necessary to climb into the slow-moving car on all fours and kneel-clamp the clamps over your head, but the worker sits on a seat mounted on the end of a robotic arm next to the conveyor belt, pushing the car into the car you can do your job comfortably. I looked at his face: I saw a calm, serene expression on it. Elsewhere, there are two of them in business, and they also showed good humor. Is the work monotonous? Of course, but for example, accounting is. Here, however, is the joy of creation: my work is in these cars too!
Of course, you have to accept that the treadmill goes slowly three days a week, but without stopping. How someone with a household or children can experience this is a separate question – this is revealed by Orsolya Györke, PR Manager at Ford Hungary, who put the inscription Puma on one or two cars.
– How did you experience the feminine nature of the plant? – I asked Orsolya Györke the question.
“At first I was surprised because I didn’t even know about such a gender balance, and then I really liked the many smiling, cheerful young and older women. They work carefully, their quality is obviously a matter of the heart, if someone notices a bad plastic item, for example, they snap it into place. They are proud of their work.
“Aren’t they very diligent to work on a treadmill?”
– Of course there is no mobilization or stopping at work, but there is a 20-minute break every three hours, you can spend it in a pleasant community space with good team-spirit colleagues. They sit at dining tables divided by translucent walls for ten o’clock. Not a slave to the whole, the hard physical work is done by machines and you always have a few seconds to adjust your hairstyle. Almost all of them are forklift women. A lot depends on them, if they are late with windshields, dashboards, etc., production will be stopped. Their trailers are already loaded with the structural elements in the order in which they are placed on the belt, with different types and specifications of wagons, so there can be no confusion.
– How can a car factory worker manage family life?
– You have to assign in other jobs who will take the child to ovi, who will bring it home. We were in the factory just during the shift, the women were going shopping for a chat. True, it’s a special lifestyle to work three shifts, but I think a single mother can solve it.
“If you had to choose to be a grocery store cashier as a Craiova woman or work for a Ford mechanic, how would you decide?”
– I would definitely go to the factory! I shouldn’t be serving customers like that, but working in a well-established, friendly team, and there are community leisure programs as well. In my sense of life, it would be important for valuable, excellent cars to come out of my hands!
The future of Craiova
The plant is facing significant development. With the investment of 300 million dollars (nearly one hundred billion forints), the production of a new, light commercial vehicle will start next year, and a year later for a fully electric car. Since taking over the plant in 2008, Ford has invested a total of two billion dollars (approximately 600 billion forints) in its Romanian site, suggesting that it has long-term plans with Craiova. This factory will also play a major role in the ongoing transformation of the automotive industry, the end of which is unforeseen.
Josephine Payne studied electronics engineering at universities in England and Germany and has worked for Ford for more than 30 years in a variety of technical fields. He has held important positions in the US, being placed in Craiova for three years, where he is already the factory manager. He is very interested in the future of the automotive industry, an enthusiastic advocate and executor of innovations. She is helping mentoring others on the board of Women of Ford Europe, according to a survey by Autocar magazine, one of the 100 most influential British women. Josephine Payne is married and has three twin grandchildren from three adult children. He loves to travel, he has traveled all over Romania.
Source: Autó-Motor by www.automotor.hu.
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