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Making, renovating history.

The Ford Rotunda began life as a building erected for the vehicle manufacturer's display at the 1939 World's Fair in New York. It was transported to Dearborn, where it was used, among other things, as the marshalling point for the people who were sent by bus to tour the Ford River Rouge Plant. The Rotunda burned down in 1962. The tours kept running until 1980, but they, too, came to an end. By that time, bad economic conditions and declining production at the aging, dirty plant conspired to reinforce the impression of the auto industry as a low-tech and low-skill way of life. How times have changed.

Plant tours at the Rouge restarted May 3, and visitors are again bussed to the plant to see how trucks--Ford's F-150--are built. The tours start from The Henry Ford--the name for Dearborn, MI's Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village--and the plant sightseer's visit today is much different than the one they would have seen nearly 25 years ago. "The Rouge," as locals refer to it, uses Ford's flexible manufacturing system--which can build up to nine different models off three different platforms in this instance--and is the first sustainable automotive manufacturing facility in the world. The roof is covered in 10.4-acres of sedum plants, and natural water management techniques eliminate the need for a storm water treatment facility.

According to Tim O'Brien, vice president, Corporate Relations at Ford: "We had the opportunity to rethink the ways in which the plant and its operations fit into the surrounding ecosystem, and came up with a number of ideas, both internally and externally, to reduce the impact the plant would have." Not all of those ideas were feasible, says O'Brien, and they remain on the shelf until time and technology make it possible to adopt them. Others--like the wind generators at Ford's Dagenham Facility--were originally planned for the Rouge, but found to be better suited to the windier plains of England. "As our plants are updated," O'Brien says, "we'll introduce those environmental technologies and ideas that make the most sense and have the greatest impact for the money spent."


As for the rest of the part of the Rouge complex that has yet to be transformed, O'Brien suggests that historically significant buildings will be renovated, while others are demolished. "We want to protect the history of the site while making the best use of the available land in a responsible way," O'Brien says before recounting how Ford has rebuilt Gate 4-scene of the famous 1937 "Battle of the Overpass." "This facility is important to the history of the Ford Motor Company, the auto industry, and of manufacturing in the 20th century," he says. "So while we are opening a new plant that looks ahead, we don't want to forget how we got here in the first place."--CAS
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Title Annotation:WIP
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2004
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