Chrysler Group’s Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly Plant is now manufacturing the company’s tenth all- new vehicle for the 2006 calendar year, the all-new 2007 Jeep Patriot. The plant was extensively retooled in 2005 and has since become a flagship for Chrysler Group’s adoption of flexible manufacturing, which allows the company to bring its new vehicles to market more quickly and the Belvidere Assembly Plant to manufacture multiple products on one assembly line. Production of the all-new 2007 Dodge Caliber began in January 2006 and was quickly followed by the all-new 2007 Jeep Compass in May of the same year.
"We are now seeing the results of our flexible manufacturing strategy, which we believe is a competitive advantage for the Chrysler Group," said Frank Ewasyshyn, Executive Vice President - Manufacturing. "Thanks to Belvidere’s ability to build multiple models on one assembly line, we expect the production of three all-new models to cost significantly less than the initial investment we made in the plant to build the Dodge Caliber."
At the core of the new manufacturing process is a body shop comprised of robotics instead of the dedicated tooling that previously was used. Belvidere is Chrysler Group’s first assembly plant to use a body shop comprised entirely of robotics. Only the robots’ end affecters or "hands" need to change in order to build different models. This tool change is done automatically, within the time it takes to cycle from one vehicle to the next. In addition, the Belvidere plant is flexible enough to vary the production mix between three products anywhere from 0 to 100 percent of each model. A fourth model also can be piloted at the same time, helping reduce the time needed to make new-model changeovers. The new body shop and other upgrades are part of a total $419 million Belvidere investment announced in 2005.
CHANGES TAKING PLACE
Many changes are taking place within the Chrysler Group manufacturing process to accommodate the building of multiple models on one assembly line. For example, new ways to make the required stamping dies are saving the company as much as 60 percent on the die costs.
Another example of innovation at the upgraded Belvidere Assembly Plant is its inbound parts sequencing center, which manages the more than 1,799 different parts that are used in the Jeep Patriot, Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber build process. In addition to sequencing, this center provides parts metering, kitting and container management to the Belvidere Assembly
Plant and delivers complete subassemblies just-in-time to the manufacturing floor. These pre-assembled modules reduce the number of components required to assemble the Jeep Patriot, Jeep Compass and Dodge Caliber, improving quality, productivity and worker ergonomics.
A tunnel connects the 500,000 square-foot sequencing center to the Belvidere Assembly Plant. This facility, operated by TDS/US — one of Chrysler Group’s largest minority-owned suppliers — represents the highest level of integration within a Chrysler Group plant. TDS/US organizes parts, puts them in "kits" for individual work stations and delivers them to the end of a connecting tunnel for Belvidere employees to transport to the manufacturing floor. This process maintains in-plant stocks at optimal levels, minimizes delivery time and reduces costs an estimated 12 percent a year compared with the previous process. By carefully managing the material flow at the plant, the sequencing center helps workers focus on manufacturing quality and allows Belvidere to remain one of the most efficient manufacturing examples in the Chrysler Group family. These pre-assembled modules reduce the number of components required to assemble the Jeep Compass, Dodge Caliber and Jeep Patriot, improving quality, productivity and worker ergonomics.
A new workplace organizational model is increasing the flexibility of the Belvidere workforce, while fostering greater creativity and innovation from plant employees. This model is being implemented throughout Chrysler Group’s Manufacturing organization. In addition to extensive training, the new workplace model lets employees design their own work stations. These changes provide a better work environment for employees and give increased support to assembly line team members.
"Belvidere Assembly is running on all cylinders," said Kurt Kavajecz, Plant Manager - Belvidere Assembly Plant. "We have faced many challenges, including the addition of two shifts and a new robotic body shop and production of three all-new models — Dodge Caliber, Jeep Compass and now Jeep Patriot . Our new workplace organization model, in which employees work in small teams, has fostered greater creativity and innovation on the plant floor and made for a very smooth process."