Ford Motor Co. resumed assembly of its F-150 pickup truck about at its Dearborn (MI) Truck Plant on May 18, about a week after halting production because an explosion and fire at Meridian Magnesium Products of America in Eaton Rapids, MI, on May 2 halted the automaker’s supply of structural diecastings.
The recovery was the result of a closely coordinated effort by Ford to salvage tooling dies and restructure its supply chain for the magnesium castings.
Ford also restored its supply of magnesium parts for Super Duty production at the Kentucky Truck Plant in Louisville and F-150 production at the Kansas City Assembly Plant.
Ford was the most seriously affected among several automakers whose supply of magnesium parts was impacted by the explosion and fire.
Two workers were injured in the incident at the magnesium diecasting operation. The incident damaged the plant’s roof and did extensive damage to production equipment at Meridian Magnesium Products. The official report on the fire indicated the plant sustained an estimated $8 million in damage.
Investigators have ruled the cause of the initial explosion is undetermined, but they reported the blaze that followed it was ignited when a fire-suppression system added water to molten magnesium. Magnesium alloys are highly flammable and make become highly explosive when molten magnesium contacts water.
Meridian Magnesium Products of America has reportedly told workers it aims to rebuild the diecasting complex and resume full production in about four months. Because the explosion and fire were contained to one portion of the Eaton Rapids plant, some production is continuing there.
Ford was able to resume production because it relocated some still-usable tooling from the Michigan plant to a Meridian Magnesium Products plant in Nottingham, England. Ford and Meridian transferred 19 dies from damaged plant to the U.K. operation.
The Eaton Rapids plant is one of the North American auto industry’s largest suppliers of lightweight structural parts — engine cradles, front-end carriers, instrument panel crossbeams, liftgate inner structures, and radiator supports.
Meridian Magnesium’s Eaton Rapids plant is a 208,000-sq.ft. operation that started up in 1994. It produces about 13,140 metric tons/year of magnesium diecastings, according to the company website. It’s one of four North American plants for Meridian Lightweight Technologies, a subsidiary of Wanfeng Auto Holdings Group, headquartered in Xinchang, China.