DaimlerChrysler: Building cars, building teams

The last Dodge Neon rolled off DaimlerChrysler's Belvidere, Illinois Assembly Plant in September. Eight weeks later, employees were ready to begin assembly of the new Dodge Caliber, due for introduction at the Detroit Auto Show next month. A decade ago, when Chrysler changed over from the Dynasty to the Neon, the assembly line changes took approximately four months.

By Jack Smith, Senior Editor December 1, 2005

The last Dodge Neon rolled off DaimlerChrysler’s Belvidere, Illinois Assembly Plant in September. Eight weeks later, employees were ready to begin assembly of the new Dodge Caliber, due for introduction at the Detroit Auto Show next month. A decade ago, when Chrysler changed over from the Dynasty to the Neon, the assembly line changes took approximately four months.

Cutting changeover time in half is no small feat, especially given all that went with this transition. This time, the Belvidere Assembly plant underwent a fundamental change —not just a tooling change. This is a whole new process.

DaimlerChrysler recognized the need for a culture change. However, there is a difference between mandating change and totally adopting change. At the Belvidere plant, plant manager Kurt Kavajecz manages by example. He took the same team training courses that he expected his team leaders and members to take. He helped his team, his co-workers, and his employees understand the need for the change in culture at the Belvidere plant.

The ability to change efficiently and still build quality cars has made Belvidere a successful cog in DaimlerChrysler’s manufacturing efforts. It is among the reasons the Belvidere facility was selected as PLANT ENGINEERING ‘s 2005 Top Plant recipient.

“At a time of great change in manufacturing, team concepts such as the one successfully implemented at the Belvidere facility stand as an example to everyone,” said PLANT ENGINEERING editor Bob Vavra. “Engaging line workers and managers in an effort to build quality, safety and efficiency into the process ensures products that meet those same goals. We are pleased to present this award to DaimlerChrysler and especially to the employees in Belvidere.”

“Being named Top Plant is a well-deserved recognition for our greatest asset: the men and women of the Belvidere Assembly Plant,” Kavajecz said.

Building a team

When DaimlerChrysler began to implement team-based concepts at the Belvidere plant, it invested in training all of its employees. Team leaders took an additional 40 hours of team leader training, according to Kavajecz. “In addition to that, all of our salaried personnel have gone through 30 hours of leadership training since shutdown. We are committed to changing the culture of the plant, where we have a more of a servant mentality. So, we’re creating a culture where everybody is supporting the operator — the team member, if you will, because they are the real people that are adding value to the product. The culture change starts with me, as leader of the plant, and it cascades throughout all levels of the plant.

“In one of the leadership training courses, Scott Dahle, a supervisor who was one of the people in my group talked about covering for Margo Barr, the group leader on Trim Line 1. She had to be freed up to help get people set on their teams. The day he filled in for Margo, his pager never went off, his phone never rang and no one called him on his radio. He even checked the batteries to see if they were dead,” Kavajecz said. “This traditional first-line supervisor, who is used to putting out fires and reacting to crises, came into the new area and was amazed because the team members and the team leaders were running the area. They were taking care of business.”

According to Kavajecz, there was no elimination of management due to his plant adopting the team-based culture. “It frees up the group leader to look at the new model so they can focus on pilot activity, building pilot vehicles, new tooling, error proofing, mistake proofing and continuous improvement, where their job used to be going from fire to fire as a day to day activity.

“There is a need to change,” Kavajecz said. “And it’s human nature — most people don’t like to change. We build cars pretty well; we are one of the best quality producers in the corporation. We are the most productive and we’re very good at controlling cost. So why do we have to change?

“But if you show them what’s going on in the industry, if you give them the information, the data on why we are changing, at the end of the presentation, they get it. They see that plants are closing and jobs are going away. We talk very openly about those things, and they understand why we’re changing. Once they start to understand that they can be part of a team, they embrace it. It’s not about job ownership. You belong to a team. And in that team, you’ll rotate on every job,” said Kavajecz.

“Since the plant went to teams, it feels smaller,” said Le Etta Bush, one of the team members at the plant. Although the plant has 3.7 million square feet, Le Etta sees a smaller plant because of the personal interaction the team leaders and members experience at the Belvidere assembly plant.

The transition from job ownership to team membership is exemplified at the Belvidere plant. In final assembly, the teams’ work areas are designed with maximum team productivity in mind. Each team member has a locker adjacent to the work site. This reduces time away from the production line and maximizes team member efficiency.

Team leaders and members worked together to design racks for sequenced parts to be used at the work area. These point-of-use racks reduce assembly time, floor space requirements and worker fatigue. The increase in team member efficiency allows more value-added work to be accomplished.

Operation, maintenance interact

Traditionally, maintenance and operations have not worked nicely together (in many plants). Generally, there is unspoken tension between these departments. Even now, some manufacturing plants allow this situation to exist.

Not at DaimlerChrysler. At the Belvidere plant, all the disciplines report to one manager. “Each departmental center manager reviews the day’s activities with the maintenance managers, engineers and production managers at their daily staff meetings,” said Robert (Curt) Falk, facilities manager at the Belvidere plant. “Activities are coordinated between the maintenance managers and the production managers to ensure that there are no surprises during the production shift.

“The concept of all disciplines reporting to the same manager has greatly improved communication and the working relationship between the people that build the cars and the people that maintain the equipment,” said Falk. “The concept of each department operating like an independent facility has been extremely effective and has focused attention on the entire production process.”

What’s new in Belvidere

The Belvidere Assembly plant has made broad changes in the stamping department. It has a new body shop, new robotic paint booths and a new JIT building for sequenced part delivery.

The stamping department was upgraded with new material flow, die standards and a Smart Manufacturing philosophy. Rolls of metal feed the automated stamping presses. The correct parts emerge in the proper sequence for automated assembly in the body shop. The redesigned dies are lighter and have tighter tolerances. The material for the Caliber’s unibody construction is lighter as well.

Teams at DaimlerChrysler redesigned the stamping operation to greatly minimize wasted material. “Our stamping, management, engineering and skilled trades were very concerned with the amount of scrap that was generated with large panel stampings” said Falk. “The one-piece side aperture, which is the body side of a car from the front door to the taillight, generated considerable scrap when the door openings were blanked out. This metal would drop through the trim die and onto the scrap conveyor. The skilled-trades employees looked at this offal as a savings opportunity.

“Our people took two presses that were going to be scrapped and totally rebuilt them. They also designed and built the dies and transfer system, including the application of unused robots from the body shop. This project has resulted in a $2.6 million in cost savings per year. These savings were achieved by using the scrap to make 19 different stampings that would have been purchased from outside the corporation.”

The new body shop includes new robots that can change their own tooling in less than one 42-second cycle. Tool changers located adjacent to each robot station can hold up to four sets of tooling — one for each vehicle model that the Belvidere plant is now capable of running. Each robot is equipped with a standard end-effector and tool mating assembly that attaches and releases very much like a socket wrench and ratchet.

Caliber body parts emerge in sequence from the stamping area. Robots, equipped with special quick-change tooling end-effectors, position the parts while the welding robots join them. Automated material handling moves the sub-assemblies along the production path in the body shop while each subsequent robot station adds the next part. Each side of the car is made on separate lines through the body shop, then transported by overhead power and free conveyors to the part of the body shop where the sub-assemblies are joined.

JIT delivery and part sequencing

Part of the secret to the successful changeover at the Belvidere plant is the implementation of Just-in-Time (JIT) delivery from strategically located vendors coupled with integrated part sequencing — from stamping to final assembly and trim. Although the JIT concept has been around for some time, and has been used to varying degrees with varying degrees of success, DaimlerChrysler’s Belvidere assembly plant has taken it to the next level.

“There’s a half million square foot building here that was not here last year,” said Kavajecz. “It’s for sequenced part delivery, which is critical to building multiple models in the same plant.”

There are as many as 12 different moldings for each side of the car if multiple models with multiple options are built. Kavajecz said “With typical material delivery, some of those parts would come in a 4 foot by 4 foot basket. Times 12 baskets, that would be 48 feet of parts. A job station is only about 19 to 20 feet. And now you’ve got stock for one job station taking up two job stations. When the line starts, a team member would be running up and down the line to pick those parts for that vehicle. Well, they have only 42 seconds. So, most of their time is wasted running back and forth. It’s non-value-added time.

“With sequenced part delivery, instead of having stock stretched out for 48 feet, team members have stock in 2 feet,” Kavajecz continued. “Because the parts will come to the teams in racks, they will be in sequence. So when the car comes down the line, the team member takes the part off the rack and puts it on the car — without having to run. The rack is right there, and all the parts are in sequence.”

“That saves a whole lot of that team members’ energy, but now he’s also got time to do more value-added work,” Kavajecz said. “Now maybe that person can put on another part, right? That’s why we call it ‘smart manufacturing.’ It’s not about working harder; it’s about working smarter.”

More than 80% of the parts for final assembly and trim are going to be sequenced through the JIT/Sequenced Part Delivery building. “We have seven module suppliers located within three miles of the plant,” said Kavajecz. “They supply items like tire and wheel assemblies, instrument panels, etc. As units come out of the paint shop, we broadcast the sequence that they will be arriving in Trim [broadcast sequence data over a secure wireless network]. These nearby vendors receive the information, build the parts in sequence and then ship them in sequence —Just in Time.”

Plant engineering at Belvidere

The organization, responsibilities and authority of plant engineering belong to the four production centers: stamping, body shop, paint, and assembly. The traditional engineering and maintenance activities were reassigned to each of these centers in 1993. Each production center assumed the responsibility for the engineering and maintenance relative to the equipment within their departments. Centralized maintenance and engineering was eliminated and the traditional manufacturing engineering department was downsized to plant facilities, which is responsible for the building and grounds, environmental and the powerhouse.

“This type of organization is extremely effective because it gives the departmental production manager complete authority for that department,” Falk said. “They are not only responsible for production, but the engineering and maintenance activities in their areas as well. They have the responsibility and resources to make design and system changes; make corrective actions; and perform the preventive maintenance on their equipment. They are responsible for equipment uptime, quality, productivity, safety and production throughput. In effect, each department operates as its own assembly plant, with each departmental manager reporting directly to the plant manager.”

Each department is measured by Safety, Quality, Delivery, Cost and Morale (SQDCM). Both engineering and skilled-trades employees ensure that equipment and systems are operating at their full potential and that the assemblies meet all quality standards. Equipment and system uptime is measured by Production Availability (PA) and throughput. All systems are charted and reviewed daily. These charts are posted in the plant manager’s conference room and are part of the daily staff meetings. These are extremely important measurements for the Belvidere plant’s continuous production process. Problems are quickly identified and resolved so that the production process is not interrupted.

“The plant uses the TMS program as our Computerized Maintenance Management System,” said Falk. “The plant information was developed by our engineering and skilled-trades employees. We have five full-time hourly skilled-trades employees that enter new PMs or revise PM data, based on information received from the trades employees on the floor. The TMS system automatically generates and schedules all PM activities. The TMS database also contains the asset number of the equipment and ties all preventive maintenance or repair activities to the asset number. The PM coordinators generate and distribute reports daily, weekly and monthly on the percentage of PMs completed to schedule. In addition, TMS tracks work orders generated by production and safety.”

The Factory Information System (FIS) monitors equipment and systems. It identifies equipment faults and also records “blocked up” and “blocked down” production stops. This information is the basis for the TPM and TMS programs. The information is reviewed by the engineers and skilled-trades employees to determine corrective actions and changes to the preventive maintenance program. The FIS information is also displayed in real time on the Andon board for immediate feedback to team members.

Suppliers are required to be ISO-9002 certified. Each supplier receives a quarterly rating based on quality and delivery performance. They are expected to maintain their parts according to engineering requirements and specifications.

“Many of our suppliers are new to our plant and are relocating to within three miles of the assembly operation,” Falk said. “They are making module assemblies such as struts, instrument panels, tire and wheel assemblies, seats, engine, transmission and the door modules. Delivery is Just-in-Time and sequenced directly to the line. Each supplier will have a plant liaison onsite to work with our production employees to ensure quality parts. There will be weekly continuous improvement meetings with these suppliers.”

Robots in the redesigned Body Shop at DaimlerChrysler’s assembly plant in Belvidere, IL work as a precision arc welding, subassembly positioning and material handling team to ensure consistency and quality of the new 2007 Dodge Caliber.

The robots in the body shop are equipped with quick-change assemblies. Robots change their own tooling, which are securely held in the adjacent tool changers, and can do so within one operational cycle, which is 42 seconds.

Tool changers are located adjacent to each robot station in the body shop. Each tool changer can accommodate up to four sets of tooling.

Tool changers are locted adjacent to each robot station in the body shop. Each tool changer can accommodate up to four sets of tooling.

The photo shows overhead automated material handling, which is one of several ways that sub-assemblies are transported between stations in the body shop.


Belvidere, IL

By The Numbers:

Square footage: 3.7 million

Number of employees: 1,700

Number of shifts: Second shift starts spring 2006

Products produced: 2007 Dodge Caliber

Plant opened : 1965

Union representation: UAW Locals #1268 and #1761

Plant History:

1965-1976: Plymouth Fury, Dodge Monaco, Dodge Polara

1977-1987: Dodge Omni, Plymouth Horizon, Dodge Shelby, Plymouth Turismo

1988-1993: Dodge Dynasty, Chrysler New Yorker, Chrysler 5

1993-2005: Dodge/Plymouth/Chrysler Neon

Community Involvement:

Member of the Belvidere Chamber of Commerce

United Way contributor

Annual Giving Tree in conjunction with UAW 1268 to provide Christmas gifts for disadvantaged children in the community.

Partnership with City of Rockford – Back to School Youth Rally (Partnership to provide book bags/school supplies in the area).

Salvation Army contributor at Christmas.

Honors and Awards:

Chrysler Group was awarded the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine’s (ACOEM) Corporate Health Achievement Award after a tour of Belvidere plant.

2004 Green Cross for Safety recipient from the National Safety Council.

The SIM room

The Simulation room is an extremely effective operation. The engineering and skilled-trades departments at the Belvidere plant formed a team that designed and developed a learning lab for the production employees. The team used a 38,000 square foot portion of the plant to install a miniature production process. Conveyor sections were installed in the floor and overhead. Simple automation was installed to move the carriers and vehicles at normal line speed.

Production operators used the SIM room to layout their job stations and develop the standard work instructions. The floor is painted in two-foot squares so that job-station length and employee walk-time can be measured. The production employees worked directly with the engineers and skilled trades to design and develop racks and line-side tooling.

“We were able to simulate almost every job for the new vehicle,” Kavajecz said. While we were building the Neon, we had team leaders and team members out in the SIM Room, and that gave us the ability to optimize the jobs — make them as efficient as possible — and take the waste out right up front. This allowed us to take out the non-value-added time, the walk time; and we were able to select the torque tools we wanted to use to get a quicker run-down time.”

Energy efficiency

With ongoing energy concerns, the Caliber’s fuel efficient design couldn’t come at a better time. And just as DaimlerChrysler is focusing on fuel economy and energy efficiency in its products, it is also focusing on energy conservation at the Belvidere assembly plant.

“Energy conservation is a mainstay of the environmental targets set under the EMS program,” Falk explained. “Monthly usage numbers are maintained and tracked against a set reduction goal. If the goal is not reached, action items are assigned to each department to bring us back in line with those established goals. We have a computerized electrical metering system that reads at the substation switch level. This gives us the ability to graph each department’s usage.

“Conservation of resources is a primary issue in all training concerning energy at the facility,” Falk continued. “Reduced use of lighting, fans, water and compressed air are main targets of the articles published monthly and distributed to employees.”

When new equipment is purchased for the Belvidere assembly plant, it is required to be energy efficient and must meet standards set forth by corporate at DaimlerChrysler. According to Falk, the plant has an energy team whose job is to drive change within the plant in the areas of conservation and innovation. This team meets regularly to discuss problems and solutions and distribute information to plant staff and departmental managers concerning recommendations for reductions and improvements.

“This team has been instrumental in reshaping the mindset of the plant to one of energy conservation,” Falk said. “Reductions in energy use have topped 3% each of the last three years. During this period, the ideas we implemented included energy efficient lighting; variable speed controls on large motors; replacement of old non-efficient motors with state-of-the-art efficient motors; air leak programs; condensate-return enhancement programs, which improved return flow by 20%; and water-use surveys that reduced overall flow by 1,000,000 gallons per month.

“The plant has an excellent program of cooperation with all three major suppliers of energy. We work together to enhance our ability to ensure reliable service, while minimizing impact on the surrounding communities. Since we are the major user of these types of natural resources in the area, this cooperative effort is very critical to all of us. The plant has the ability to pull electrical power from two different main distribution feeds in an agreement worked out with the local utility company. We also have two city-water feed lines to ensure production in case the city has a problem with one of its feed systems. Natural gas is bought on the open market and stored in systems that the local utilities have in this part of the state.”