Saturday, January 14, 2012

Plant Trek: GM & Ford

Our second stop of the plant trek was in Detroit, Michigan to visit GM’s and Ford’s auto assembly plants. Many of the LGOs had never been in a car manufacturing plant- it was quite an eye opening experience!

At GM our day was spent touring their newest North American facility, the GM Lansing Delta Township that makes GM crossovers, having a hands-on experience with their Simulated Work Environment (SWE), and the Detroit car show. All of which were fantastic! We interacted with very enthusiastic workers that were clearly passionate about and proud of their work. My group’s tour guide had worked for GM for over 30 years and was at Lansing when they produced the first and one-millionth crossover. Even the operators on the floor seemed to be smiling and had a good attitude.

GM hosted us at the Detroit North American Auto Show that evening. I enjoyed seeing the concept cars and high-end cars that I will most likely never own (never hurts to dream, right?).

Fun GM Facts:
  • First of all, robots are ah-mazing! They have the strength to crush the piece of metal they are working with, but at the same time the sensitivity to not even make a dent in the car body’s metal. The preciseness is really unbelievable.
  • In the body shop the sparks flew everywhere – even up to the ceiling.
  • Once the metal body of the car is complete it is moved between buildings via the ‘gerbil tube’ that allows the skeleton to stay indoors the entire time.
  • ‘Skillets’ move the car along the assembly line to allow the operator to move with the car when working. The skillets also elevated the car 0-5 feet in the air depending on the task being performed to minimize the strain on the operator.
  • One of my favorite things about the plant was how they have completely different make/models/colors/specs coming down the line. It would be a blue Chevy with a sunroof, followed by a red GMC, followed by a green Buick, etc. All of the parts were sequenced by the supplier and given in the order that the operator would need to assemble them in.
  • Along the same lines, the doors are on during painting to ensure the exact color is used for the whole car but then the doors are taken off to remove the extra 3-4 steps each operator would have to take to move around the doors on each of the 100 operations that need to be done to the interior. At the end of the assembly the same doors find their way back to the crossover on the other side of the plant to be finally assembled- so neat!
  • I liked the automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that move based on magnets in the floor and bring the right type of engine below the vehicle, in just the right spot, to bring the two together. These AGVs also knew when they were low on battery and would go back to the charging station on their own.
  • The crossovers are tested in a torrential downpour to ensure there are no leaks as well as driven over different type terrains to check for squeaking or rattling.

The following day we visited the Ford Dearborn Truck plant that makes F-150s. It is located in the Ford Rouge Center. The plant was not quite as impressive as GM’s but I’ve heard that most of GM’s older plants are similar to what we saw today at Ford’s facility.

Fun Ford Facts:
  • The Rouge Center is 1 mile X 1.5 miles
  • It was bought by Henry Ford in 1915
  • This center has made WWI anti-submarines, tractors, WWII jeeps, tanks and airplane engines, and the Mustang from 1964-2004 – lots of history!
  • The roof of the plant is the largest ‘living roof’ with a 10.4 acre garden on top 
I feel like we have done so much in a very short amount of time! It is amazing to think that we still have four more plants to tour! Woohooo!

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