One missing part has idled 3,600 workers and halted F-150 truck production at Ford's Claycomo Assembly Plant since a fire hit a supplier last week.
The part is called the front bolster. It adds structural support to the front of the engine compartment where the radiator attaches. No front bolster, no truck.
Ford faces million-dollar choices about the best way to get front bolsters flowing again to Claycomo so production of the company's most popular vehicle can restart there. Compounding its decisions are other assembly plants — including one that that also makes F-150s — with missing parts and idled hands.
"We're working very closely with suppliers to get this back on line as quickly as possible," Ford spokeswoman Kelli Felker said Friday.
Until Ford finds a way to get front bolsters, 3,600 Kansas City area workers remain on layoff though they are drawing 80 percent of their take-home pay during the shutdown, Felker said. An additional 3,400 union workers on Claycomo's Transit van assembly and all of the plant's non-union employees are working normal duties.
Truck shoppers have an ample supply at dealerships to choose from, Ford said, as it has an 84-day cushion.
Ford halted production of the F-150 truck at Claycomo as it quickly ran out of front bolsters supplied by a Meridian Magnesium Products of America plant in Eaton Rapids, Mich. Fire damaged the part of the plant where machines used unique dies to stamp out the front bolsters and other parts for Ford and other customers.
A Meridian spokesman said other areas of the plant that do finishing work and paint the stamped-out front bolsters and other parts quickly resumed working on the inventory on hand. But the supply ran out.
It will take perhaps three weeks to restore the plant to stamp parts again.
"We've shipped everything we have," Benjamin Wu told The Star. "We hope to resume production at this facility by June 1 at the latest."
Waiting for June 1, however, isn't Ford's only option. The Meridian facility had more than one set of the front bolster dies, and some were rescued.
Wu said Ford could decide to keep a set of front bolster dies at Meridian for when it resumes production and ship duplicate sets of front-bolster dies to other locations to start stamping out parts. Companies affiliated with Meridian Products have plants that could do that work, Wu said. He said competing companies also may be an option for Ford.
Starting production at other sites, however, would involve a "ramping up period." Wu said he could not say how long that would take.
He ruled out a Meridian plant in Ontario, Canada, because it would have to halt work for other customers to make Ford parts.
Felker declined to discuss Ford's options or decisions.
Those decisions extend beyond Claycomo's front bolsters to the other parts Meridian Products shipped to other Ford assembly plants.
For example, Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant in Michigan also needs front bolsters for the F-150s it makes. Felker said halted production there has 4,000 union workers drawing 80 percent of their take-home pay.
Meridian's fire means Ford also is on the hunt for third-row seat cushion pans and the inner frames for lift gates for other vehicles whose production has been disrupted.