Bucket brigades at Ford

The Ford Customer Service Division distributes Ford parts to dealers and to auto parts distributors, such as AutoZone. The Customer Service Division is a huge enterprise that generates as much revenue as the part of Ford that manufactures cars.

In the United States, Ford distributes its auto parts through eight Parts Distribution Centers (PDC's). The most labor-intensive operation of each PDC is the small-parts zone, where they pull product from huge banks of carousels.

In January 1999 we began an experiment at the Ford PDC in McDonough, GA in which some fast-moving parts were moved to flow rack and picked by bucket brigades. Initial results were very good: The pick rate increased almost every week and, at last measurement, was more than 50% over that in the carousels. (However, this is not quite a fair comparison because bucket brigades are picking the more popular sku's.)

The workers, who are unionized, apparently liked the process and management had to turn away volunteers.

This experiment has been put on hold while Ford reorganizes its supply chain.