How world class manufacturing made one plant safer, greener and more profitable

In this Plant Profile, Chrysler's Belvidere auto plant demonstrates world class manufacturing.

By J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, senior technical editor

With the addition in 2009 of the Dodge Dart, Belvidere Assembly in northern Illinois became the largest plant in the Chrysler Group (www.chrysler.com). Belvidere has 5 million sq ft under roof and employs 329 salaried and 4,415 hourly workers. Nearly $700 million was spent on a new body shop to produce the Dart, and more than 1,800 new jobs were added since 2009. The Dart shares Belvidere with the Jeep Compass and Patriot models. Since the Belvidere plant opened in 1965, 22 different vehicle models have been assembled there. In recent years, as Chrysler went through three different ownership structures, each of the new owners has chosen Belvidere as the place to build new models.

Dodge Dart moves down Belvidere assembly line between two Jeep models.
Dodge Dart moves down Belvidere assembly line between two Jeep models.

“What we call the ‘control room process’ for new model introduction is a true joint process, developed between Fiat and Chrysler,” says Bob Allen, Dodge Dart launch manager. “Each station is designed in minute detail in the control room prior to any work on the shop floor. This approach enabled us to launch the Dart without the off-site pilot lines and extensive production interruptions that are traditional in a Detroit car launch. Build stations were designed around the car without disruption of the existing Belvidere production flow, resulting in amazing floor space utilization.”

By contrast to the Dart launch, Belvidere was shut down for 16 weeks in 1987 for the changeover to the Chrysler New Yorker and Dodge Dynasty models. According to Allen, the Belvidere team is now helping other Chrysler plants organize their new product launches.

Effectiveness and efficiency

To learn more about the plant, watch these brief interviews:

Get your operators involved to achieve world class manufacturing

How autonomous maintenance helps reduce breakdowns

The birth of the Dodge Dart

Like all major auto assembly plants, Belvidere runs to a master build schedule that coordinates the components of all the vehicles being assembled. At Belvidere, though, the assembly conveyors carry what sometimes appears to be a random mix of all three models through much of the assembly process. “This is especially challenging,” explains Allen, “because the Dart is a top-down assembly while the Jeep models are built bottom-up on their heavy-duty drivetrains.” The mixed model approach places big demands on the flexibility of more than 1,800 robots and a lot of well-trained employees. The payoff is that it enhances the utilization of floor space and production equipment in a way that three parallel assembly lines could never have done. This flexibility and the spirit of the people who make it happen are important factors in attracting new investment and car lines to Belvidere.

“One of the key drivers of this cultural change is world class manufacturing (WCM),” explains Mauro F. Pino, vice president — assembly operations and world class manufacturing. “WCM began at Fiat in 2006, including Fiat business units such as CNH, Iveco, Fiat Powertrain, and Magneti Marelli. And then it spread to Chrysler when the alliance between the two groups began. WCM is crucial to our competitiveness and our future. It involves everyone at every level of the organization.”

Recommendations

“One of the ten ‘pillars’ of WCM is autonomous maintenance (AM),” explains Regina Metzger, WCM lead for Belvidere. “Equipment failures are the third or fourth most costly causes of production losses in all assembly plants. Teams of production workers clean and service equipment now, performing oiling, checkups, and minor repairs that used to be performed by tradespeople. This frees the trades to pursue root cause analysis (RCA) of failures so they can be prevented from happening in the future.”

AM builds ownership, explains Nick Wells, AM lead for Belvidere. “As they clean and service the equipment and restore it to new machine operating condition, operators develop a new kind of pride in their plant,” he says. “Belvidere’s build schedule calls for an increase in production as large as what you would expect from an additional plant. The only way we can reach that level of productivity is by having world class reliability from our equipment. AM is how we will achieve it.”

Corporate citizenship

J. Stanton McGroarty, CMfgE, CMRP, is senior technical editor of Plant Services. He was formerly consulting manager for Strategic Asset Management International (SAMI), where he focused on project management and training for manufacturing, maintenance and reliability engineering. He has more than 30 years of manufacturing and maintenance experience in the automotive, defense, consumer products and process manufacturing industries. He holds a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering from the Detroit Institute of Technology and a master’s degree in management from Central Michigan University. He can be reached at smcgroarty@putman.net or check out his .

“Customer response to these new products has been fantastic,” says Pino. As of February 2013, Chrysler sales experienced the 35th consecutive month of year-over-year gains. Market share increased to 11.2 in 2012 from 10.5 in 2011.

“In May 2011, we were able to repay in full our U.S. and Canadian government loans, with interest, and six years ahead of schedule,” continues Pino. “We remain grateful for the support given to us in our time of need, and we are committed to justifying the faith that taxpayers placed in us. We are also profitable again. In the first quarter of 2012, we recorded net income of $473 million, our best result since the formation of the new Chrysler Group in June 2009.”

At the core of Chrysler’s success is the precision of WCM, including a systematic seven-step approach to reduction of wastes and losses.

Employee involvement and ownership are bridges to improved safety, ecology, and profitability at the Belvidere plant. Safety risk assessments take place as risks are identified, prior to injuries occurring. An in-depth analysis of root cause is done when an accident does occur. And measures are taken to eliminate repetitive injuries in the plant through the sharing of best practices with Fiat and Chrysler sister plants. More than 70 Belvidere best practices have been shared with other Chrysler and Fiat plants. They include “happy seats” for more ergonomic assembly work, a rotisserie mechanism to rotate cars, ergonomic racking, highly visible floor and stair transitions, a safety continuous improvement program, socket covers for rotating tools, and lift tables for heavy items. Monthly on-site management and union floor reviews identify unsafe conditions.

Chrysler has reduced CO2 emissions by 219 metric tons per year by reorganizing material delivery logistics. Water recycling is practiced in water cooled welders.

Ten best practices, including barrel emptying follower plates, high-efficiency lighting, detailed weekend shutdown plans to reduce gas and electricity usage, and automatic shutoff of water, fans and other electrical machinery during non-production hours, also have been implemented and shared with other plants.

To learn more about the Chrysler Belvidere Assembly Plant and Body Shop, read Stanton's blog, Harness the power of ownership to achieve world class manufacturing.