A lot has changed since Ford opened its Chicago, IL facility in August of 2011. Troy Design & Manufacturing (TDM), a wholly owned Ford Subsidiary, is the only OEM police equipment upfitter for the current Police Interceptor Utility (PIU). Known internally as the Chicago Mod Center (CMC), it started production in January of 2012 with a 54,000-square-foot facility. Today, CMC is in an all-new building located at 3400 E. 126th Street in Chicago, only 300 yards away from the Chicago Assembly Plant (CAP). The move to the new location increased their size to 100,000 square feet.

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CMC has a combined salary/hourly staff of around 288. In order to meet demand, they run two 10-hour production line shifts. Always ensuring safety is paramount, CMC has a full COVID-19 protocol in place with all employees being temperature checked and screened before entry into the facility. The CMC facility has a maximum unit capacity of approximately 68,000 units but usually runs a steady 50,000 units a year through its doors. The numbers do not lie; each year since its inception the CMC has increased its production exponentially.
In 2020, CMC produced the final Police Interceptor Sedans, as they were discontinued in 2020. In addition, they produced the final Police Responder Sedans, as they were also discontinued for 2020. They currently produce only the Police Interceptor Utility.
The benefit of having the OE upfitter just a few feet away from the factory allows for a seamless order process that begins when an agency orders their units. CAP then schedules the vehicle VIN and triggers Electronic Data Info (EDI) to CMC to order and synchronize delivery of the parts for each vehicle build. After CAP builds the PIU units, they are delivered to CMC with an expectation of a 36-hour turnaround for upfit. Units can travel through up to six stations for various upfitting. From the moment any PIU is released from Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant, accountability and quality assurance is the priority.
As the PIU drives through the CMC access door, it is immediately scanned by VIN and entered into the CMC system. The staff member who brings it in immediately performs an acceptance QC check to ensure there are no issues with the vehicle after its release from CAP. If there are, CMC does not accept it, and it is either fixed quickly on the spot or returned to CAP.
Once that inspection is complete and the vehicle is accepted, it is entered into the CMC system and a work order is generated specific to that vehicle. CMC then takes a decal with a RFID tag built into it and attaches that sticker to the vehicle. That RFID tag stays on that vehicle until it has been approved to leave the facility. It also allows that vehicle to be queried by anyone at any time to track the level of completion as it moves through the CMC facility.
Set up identical to a regular vehicle assembly plant, CMC has six production lines that can all do a complete upfit start to finish, so there is no need to move the vehicle around to different locations within the plant. All six production lines can do all the content required by the specific VIN order sheet.
Again, keeping with accountability, the first technician to do any type of upfitting must now log into the first workstation to get the description of the first package to be installed in this particular Interceptor. The computer lists the required harnesses and lighting to be installed. Also on the same screen is a PDF document that opens up with color instructions for clarification. With the introduction of the all-new 2020 PIU, CMC has added instructional videos to assist installers in the exact installation technique required.
As the vehicles move through the upfit lines, it is like watching a fine-tuned ballet. The installers know exactly what they are doing; nothing breaks, nothing is forced off, nothing is jammed, it is removed or installed correctly each and every time. One has to ask, can your upfitter say that? It is almost impossible to upfit a police vehicle without a clip or screw breaking, and how many of those just get pushed back in with nothing said? Not at CMC; it cannot happen because of the station-by-station QC checks.
A CAP-trained technician removes all of the OEM interior parts in order to allow for the installation of the wiring harness and to get ready for lighting installations at the next station. Before the vehicle leaves that station, the installing tech must go back to the workstation and enter in that the work has been completed and again confirm another QC check. Most shops just simply do not have or require this type of accountability.
After the harnesses are placed inside the vehicle, it moves down the line and again as it enters the next station, the technicians log in and get the next set of instructions. At the second station, the vehicle goes up on a hoist. Here it will get the front clip (bumper) removed and if required by order, front grille lights and front siren installation, and the optional skid plates are bolted on.
In just a few minutes, a properly trained pair of techs can remove the front clip of the vehicle. While one is installing and connecting the waterproof siren speaker wiring package, the other is installing the front grille lights. Since the grille lights take less time, the second tech moves directly to installation of the skid plate, with all the parts sitting neatly on a table next to the hoist. Almost to the second as the speaker install is completed, the skid plate is also put on. The front clip is picked up and attached back on with all factory clips and screws re-torqued to factory specs.
At this time, CMC is still only installing the single 100-watt siren driver. Demand from many agencies is to run dual 100-watt siren drivers so CMC is working with the PIU project team to look at adding dual 100-watt siren drivers in the near future.
All PIUs get a few standard upfit features, one being the rear liftgate key cylinder. At the rear liftgate, technicians install the key lock cylinder. As easy as this sounds, it is very impressive given the level of care taken in this process. The rear hatch exterior is given a protective sheet placed on the paint. On top of that, they install a 3D printer-made plastic jig that clamps on to the exact same place every time to ensure the precise location for the hole. Once everything is lined up, the hole is drilled using very sharp bits. In fact, CMC is so picky about making sure they use sharp bits that they usually change them out every 8-10 installations. This is a significant improvement from the previous generation Interceptor keylock installation, as CMC used the drill bit for close to 20 installations before changing to a new drill bit. You would be hard-pressed to find any in-house shops or aftermarket upfitters that change out drill bits at this frequency in an effort to maintain the highest quality control.
For those who say this is excessive, it is true; a drill bit can be effective much longer than that, but CMC found that as a drill bit dulled, it was less effective in cleanly cutting through the paint and metal. After a closer look, an examination not seen by the human eye, the paint can experience microscopic cracks that over time could cause paint or metal fatigue. It is very likely most other upfit shops do not think about that when they drill a hole in the last vehicle they upfitted. They are usually thinking about how much longer until lunch.
Once the hole is drilled, it is deburred and the technician switches to inside the liftgate. Using an OEM part, the lock cylinder gets a heavy-duty bracket anchored by four bolts, ensuring there will be no future issues with rattles, squeaks, or overall cylinder strength. In the 2020/21 sixth-generation Interceptor, the lock cylinder is located in the exterior liftgate black applique, which has a special knock-out hole for the lock cylinder, no drilling required. Again, no work is started without the tech logging in to start and logging out upon job completion and QC.
One of the most complex installations done by CMC is the “A” pillar spotlight installation. It is for good reason Ford recommends that CMC do the “A” Pillar installations or at the very least, have them do the drilling and each agency can do their own installation. After seeing how well CMC does this process, I would question why anyone would want to do this themselves, as this is easily one of the quickest ways to scrap a vehicle if you make a mistake.
Again, to ensure the highest levels of quality, the Interceptors ordered with spotlights come out of CAP with the “A” pillar black plastic applique not attached to ensure that when they get installed, they are installed properly without any broken clips or anchors. The previous generation of Interceptors had clips to hold on the A pillar applique but for 2020, that was upgraded to a clip/bolt solution that is significantly more robust.
For the 2020 model year, Ford increased the body strength again by switching from Boron Steel to a stronger material called “Martin Sites Steel.” This harder steel is even tougher to drill through and requires more frequent drill bit changes than the previous Boron steel A Pillars.
Drilling through Martin Sites Steel requires not only an expensive drill bit but a sharp one. CMC takes no chances and replaces the Martin Sites Steel drill bit around every 8-10 Interceptors.
First, a spider fixture jig is anchored on the vehicle to start a pilot hole and the anchor points for the light mechanism. Once those pilot holes are drilled, the jig is removed and replaced with a combination drill and jig. This one drills the main holes for the spotlight arm to pass through. For those considering doing this yourself, please remember there is an airbag in that “A” pillar.
Once drilled, the holes are deburred and coated with waterproof sealant. The mechanisms are installed and torqued to factory specs. The “A” Pillar black applique is installed and anchored for the first time as it normally would have been back at CAP.
Once the Interceptor leaves the spotlight install station, it goes to get rear tail light strobes and rear hatch glass red/blue LED lights.
If an agency decides they want to order just the Ultimate Wiring Package and the special police tail lights with emergency light knockouts because they want their specific brand of lighting other than Whelen, that is now easy to do. However, they should be aware that in the previous generation PIU, there was no hole drilled in the body of the vehicle to allow the wires to pass through correctly to meet the housing connector.
In the new 2020 PIU, Ford had the forethought to have a hole stamped into the area, saving the need to drill a new one. This is actually a big deal when you think about the fact that now the metal is dipped in E-coat from the factory and will not have any burred edges. Again, this is another small detail that provides major time and cost savings for the upfitter.
The strobes are installed in the light housings and the OEM tail light is reinstalled using the factory torque specs. Same goes for the front headlight assembly. New for 2020/21 are the programmable headlamps that allow for simple wig wag programming by CMC or agency technicians.
New for 2020/21 is the SoundOff Traffic Advisor, a completely separate part that is actually installed in production at CAP. CMC then connects the wiring and confirms operation QC. There is also a new SoundOff interior visor lightbar that is beautifully hidden up against the headliner but still provides outstanding exterior light throw.
SoundOff has also provided a new rear liftgate applique lighting solution, offered also in red and blue; this is a nice addition for the lower-level lighting on many vehicles.
Once the Interceptor has all the ordered wiring and lighting content installed, it can then go to final QC if completed and if not, it can move on to other optional stations.
In the previous generation PIU, CMC offered 3M vinyl wrapping, but starting for the 2020 MY, that option has been discontinued.
In all six lines of production, CMC can install the Ford-approved BLS ballistic door panels. For 2021, these panels come in either NIJ Threat Level III or IV. This complex installation is one that no agency should be doing on its own; CMC has a very defined procedure using OEM bracketing and anchor points in the doors. Each door is stripped of interior trim, glass, and all interior door electronics before ballistic panel installation is initiated. First, the heavy-duty panel bracketing is installed in order to accept the panel.
Once complete, the technician selects a specific BLS ballistic panel, and using a scanner, the BLS panel serial number is recorded and then CMC knows exactly what vehicle it is installed in and who installed it. For the 2021 MY, the panels have RFID tags to ensure the right panels are in the right vehicle at all times.
The panel then gets carefully slid down the glass opening in the top of the door and fitted in against the previously installed brackets. Again, torqued to factory specs, the panel is secured in the door to ensure no chance of integrity loss.
The vehicle is then checked for any squeaks or rattles associated with the ballistic panel install, then the technician signs off at the workstation using his or her proximity card again.
Once all content is installed and the vehicle has moved to the end of the production line, the vehicle hits CMC QC. The final QC technician again reads the RFID tag on the vehicle and also has a printed list of the required ordered content. The technician goes over each item, ensuring the package functions the way it should. If the vehicle was equipped with “A” Pillar spotlights, then the entire time the vehicle is in QC, the spot lamps are turned on to ensure no issues are observed. Both the Whelen and Unity LED spot lamps are tested with all required movement, and the light beam is checked to ensure the light is the correct warmth against the wall. The LED spotlight is tested against the hood of the vehicle to ensure continuity of all nine LEDs inside.
Even if an agency did not order the standard Whelen CenCom system with Sapphire controller to activate the emergency lights, CMC has a portable controller system they plug in to the Interceptor in order to test all functionality before the vehicle leaves their facility.
One interesting note about the wiring packages and controllers–if an agency is looking to have the lights installed by CMC but prefer their own siren/light controllers, then they need to be clear and understand that they can order the “Ready for the Road Package” with the “CenCom Delete” option. This allows the entire lighting package factory installed and ready to allow integration with the agency’s own controller and siren unit.
After final QC sign-off, the vehicle goes into the water test booth where it undergoes a two-minute and 30 seconds soak cycle with a 40psi, which is equal to CAP’s five-minute soak booth. This ensures that no matter what level content the vehicle had installed, it is still water tight as when it left CAP.
When there is a design change in any Interceptor model, a new vehicle model pilot build is brought to CMC from Ford (TT, PP, MP1). The Quality Manager will go through and audit all units and sign off that all work has been completed correctly and functions have been made from a supplier standpoint and from CMC facility installation. This includes checking the part supplier quality as well. Then and only then is the vehicle released out the door to the on-site holding area for shipping.
What is impressive at CMC is the level of QC accountability not typically seen with the average Law Enforcement “in house” or contract upfitters. For example, every employee has a body-worn proximity card that not only tracks them for access to the security restricted facility but also designates the way they access each workstation. What is also often overlooked is the fact that CMC’s work is covered under the Ford warranty program, which is available through your Ford dealer. It is highly unlikely that any in-house or third-party upfitter provides the same standardized OEM quality workmanship and then stands behind it with OEM warranty value.
As Fleet Managers, we owe it to the men and women on the front lines to ensure that only the highest quality control standards are accepted. CMC continues to elevate these QC benchmarks because the safety of our front-line workers is something Ford and all the staff at the Chicago Modification Center take very seriously.
Sergeant Brad Brewer is a 30-year member of the Vancouver Police Department. He was an eight-year member of the Ford Police Advisory Board and regularly gives presentations at law enforcement conferences on mobile computing, wireless technology and police vehicle ergonomics. He can be reached at sgt1411@gmail.com.
– Photos courtesy of Brad Brewer and the Ford Motor Company