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Chrysler Group’s Sterling Heights (Mich.) assembly plant rises to the occasion as it prepares for the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200

Company invests nearly $1 billion in the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) for production of the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 sedan All-new, state-of-the-art one million square-foot paint shop provides premium finish All-new UWE Braun lights installed to evaluate paint quality – a North American first World-class sealing of the new 200 means a quieter interior … Continued

  • Company invests nearly $1 billion in the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) for production of the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 sedan
  • All-new, state-of-the-art one million square-foot paint shop provides premium finish
  • All-new UWE Braun lights installed to evaluate paint quality – a North American first
  • World-class sealing of the new 200 means a quieter interior compartment
  • Zero emissions of powder prime through recirculating powder spray booths
  • Friction Drive Conveyor system is all electric and only moves when needed, reducing energy usage and noise
  • All-new body shop is fully-robotic and features leading edge technology
  • Automated closure panel line features robotically guided lasers; precisely measures critical aspects of each body to ensure best fit and finish, consistently
  • New Metrology and Quality Assurance Centers focused on ensuring quality assembly of the new 200 and customer satisfaction
  • Several significant upgrades to assembly line through World Class Manufacturing integration result in higher quality that customers will appreciate
  • More than 900 jobs added at SHAP since 2011
First established in 1953 as a jet engine plant, Chrysler Group’s Sterling Heights (Mich.) Assembly Plant (SHAP) has experienced a cycle of changes in its lifetime, with none more significant than what lies ahead. The facility plays an integral role in the production of the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200.

SHAP’s story is one of rags to riches. In June 2009, as a new company emerged from bankruptcy, the plant found itself left behind as part of the estate of the Old Company and slated to close in December 2010. Operating at only 50 percent of one shift, there appeared to be no future for the once booming facility. But as quickly as hope faded, SHAP and its employees began to see a glimmer of renewed optimism in a series of positive announcements.

In March 2010, with sales of the Chrysler and Dodge mid-size sedans rebounding, Chrysler Group announced that it would repurchase the plant and extend production through 2012. In July 2010, during a visit by President Obama to another Detroit-area Chrysler Group facility, the Company announced that SHAP would remain open indefinitely and add a second shift of production (about 900 jobs) in the first quarter of 2011. At a celebration event in December 2010, Chrysler Group confirmed that with continued growing demand and new product on the horizon, SHAP would receive a nearly $850 million investment that would include construction of an all-new, state-of-the-art paint shop, as well as the installation of new machinery, tooling and material-handling equipment.

The second shift began production in February 2011 and yet another investment announcement followed in October 2011. This time, $165 million would be spent to add a one million square-foot body shop. Combined, the new paint and body shops make SHAP one of the most versatile, flexible and state-of-the-art production facilities in the Company.

“For SHAP, the road has not been an easy one, one often filled with uncertainty and doubt,” said Mauro Pino, Vice President – Head of NAFTA Manufacturing/World Class Manufacturing. “But in spite of significant obstacles in their path, the employees rose to the challenge and persevered, proving that SHAP could play a critical role in the long-term success of the Company. It was because of their dedication and commitment that we decided to invest in the plant and give them the proper tools to chart a new course.”

Part of SHAP’s rise from the ashes had to do with the implementation of World Class Manufacturing (WCM). Introduced to Chrysler Group through its alliance with Fiat, WCM has proven to be transformational in the Company’s success. WCM focuses on reducing waste and increasing productivity while improving quality and safety in a systematic and organized manner. WCM engages the workforce to provide and implement suggestions on how to improve their jobs and their plants.

Although SHAP’s future was uncertain, it began implementing WCM in June 2009. The plant underwent its first audit in May 2010. The plant endured performance audits approximately every six months, improving its results with each one. Now as SHAP focuses on the launch of the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200, it is also striving to achieve Bronze status along the WCM milestones, one of the critical WCM milestones on the journey to World Class. A Bronze award would mark a significant achievement for the plant.

“The pride that beams from every worker here at SHAP is truly incredible,” said Tyree Minner, Plant Manager – SHAP, Chrysler Group LLC. “That pride is delivered in every minute detail of each vehicle that crosses their path. SHAP employees want our customers to know that passionate people created their vehicle with a lot of heart.”

SHAP body shop: designed for flexibility and increased quality
SHAP’s new body shop is a reflection of the global standard that was developed jointly between Chrysler Group and Fiat. It is the third iteration to be deployed in Chrysler Group’s U.S. plants of an all-new body shop that is fully cross loadable with any model from the Company’s Compact U.S. Wide range of products. The first was at the Belvidere (Ill.) Assembly Plant, home of the Dodge Dart, followed by the one at the Toledo (Ohio) Assembly Complex, where the all-new Jeep® Cherokee is built. Fiat has installed two similar body shops: one in Italy and one in Serbia.

In the all-new body shop, the main lines consist of modular standard configurations. This design, referred to as a BRIC (Basic Robot Integrated Configuration), reduces the installation time of equipment because the robots, equipment and associated electrical control panels are shipped as a complete unit. The BRIC eliminates the need to disassemble and reassemble the equipment at the OEM. In addition, this design provides other advantages, such as the ability to mount robots overhead, which reduces model changeover time as the station is accessible; eliminates potential tripping hazards; allows for easier maintenance; and provides excellent visual management compared to other conventional welding systems.

Through this standard approach, Chrysler Group has carried over nearly all of the documentation from its previous launches pertaining to the Professional and Autonomous Maintenance pillars (part of the WCM methodology) including machine ledgers and standard maintenance procedures. Deployment of Early Equipment Management, another WCM pillar, which ensures lessons are learned with rigor and discipline, is the key enabler to a vertical launch in the body shop and substantially reduces model changeover and start-up time. This is particularly important when looking at the innovative assembly techniques utilized, including the extensive use of lasers for brazing and welding applications.

The laser braze welding process uses an intense laser-light beam to melt a piece of silicon wire, applied by four robots, into a predetermined location between the body side aperture and roof panel. This reduces overall build variation and allows for a seamless transition between these mating surfaces, eliminating the need to cover the attachment area with a secondary trim component. Laser braze, widely used by Fiat, was first introduced at Chrysler Group’s Brampton (Ont.) Assembly Plant for the launch of the 2011 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, the 2013 Dodge Dart in Belvidere (Ill.) and again on the 2014 Jeep Cherokee in Toledo, Ohio. This fully automated technology gives Chrysler Group vehicles a best-in-class sculptural appearance, while improving aerodynamics, customer quality and achieving optimal process cost reductions.

On the automated closure panel installation line, the body shell enters the cell and four robots, utilizing measurement lasers, precisely measure critical aspects of each body. The data is then used to tell the panel installation robots exactly how the decklid, doors, fenders and hood panels should be installed. This process ensures each vehicle meets exacting fit and finish specifications. As the vehicle continues to move through the process, these measurements are again utilized to robotically guide lasers to precisely cut the front rails of the car to length. This provides a precision mounting surface for the front-end module that is installed in the final assembly area.

Another area that was jointly developed by Chrysler Group and Fiat is where the vehicle body is framed, called the Open Gate Framer. This area is capable of building four different car models. There are 18 robots, eight on the floor and 10 hung from above, which precisely weld the panels to the body, ensuring a consistent and dimensionally repeatable build of each vehicle.

Chrysler Group invested $12.5 million to add a metrology center at SHAP. Now located in most of Chrysler Group’s assembly plants, the metrology centers reflect the Company’s heightened dedication to quality. The tools within the metrology center include state-of-the-art inspection equipment, like a Meisterbock gauge and blue light laser scanners that allow for 3-D measurement and certification of both plant processes and incoming supplier parts. The goal is to get any deviations identified and root caused starting with the early pilot builds, so that our customers get the best starting with the very first production cars.

“There has been a fundamental shift in how Chrysler Group is manufacturing vehicles today. In the past, the car designs would arrive at the plant and we would build them,” said Bernie Mitchell, Director, Manufacturing Engineering Body-In-White — Chrysler Group LLC. “Now, there is much more effort and more involvement in the manufacturing process upfront. We are not just designing for cars; we’re designing for manufacturing too.”

SHAP’s paint shop adds a new dimension to watching paint dry  
As Chrysler Group’s first full, all-new, start-to-finish paint shop in 13 years, the Company broke ground in June 2011 and construction was finalized in August 2013. At nearly a combined one million square feet, spread over three floors, the all-new SHAP paint shop is a leader in technique and waste management. It is so flexible that it could paint Chrysler Group’s entire product line with the exception of its truck models and commercial vans.
“The first question most people are asked when they buy a new car, ‘What color did you get?’” said Richard Owusu, Director — Paint Operations, Chrysler Group LLC. “Having spent several decades in this field, I know how important an exceptional paint job is to creating a positive first impression. I believe we have accomplished that with this new facility.

“Countless hours of research between several teams of employees went into developing the new paint shop,” said Owusu. “We have utilized the most advanced equipment and distinctive processes to provide a beautiful and durable color and shine to the 2015 Chrysler 200 that will exceed our customers’ highest standards.”
SHAP’s paint shop has some very unique features that set it apart from other facilities. First, SHAP is one of only five facilities in the world with a 180-degree rotating conveyor system in the Underbody Sealing and Underbody Coating (UBS/UBC) station. (The other four are Chrysler’s Belvidere and Toledo Assembly Plants, and two Fiat plants.)

Working much like a rotisserie with 36 robots, the vehicle body is flipped completely upside down to ensure world-class sealing in interior seams, underbody seams, engine/cowl compartments and hem flange. This process utilizes gravity to ensure the proper seal, to mitigate contamination and if additional manual quality checks are needed, allows operators to work in the “golden zone,” the 60-degree window directly in front of them for optimum ergonomics. Of the 36 operating robots on the UBS/UBC line, eight were recycled from the former Newark, Del.,and St. Louis paint shops.

Second, Chrysler Group is the first auto company in North America to implement UWE Braun lights along the final paint review line. The lights automatically adjust their color and intensity based on the vehicle’s paint color, to provide the appropriate contrast to best evaluate overall paint quality.

The new paint facility also uses an innovative Friction Drive System (FDS) to move the vehicle seamlessly and silently on eight miles of conveyor through the different phases of the paint process. It pushes vehicles using pressure discs, instead of the conveyor chains traditionally used in most assembly plants. With fewer moving parts, the system reduces equipment cost, energy consumption, noise and maintenance cost, while decreasing sources of contamination due to the lack of chain oil.
Unlike some of its competitors, Chrysler Group uses powder primer to provide better chip resistance and durability than liquid primer. The Powder Primer System consists of eight wall-mounted robots, which reduces powder contamination with a pressurized conveyor shroud. In keeping with the facility’s high attention to waste management, this system utilizes 97 percent of its powder material. Virgin powder is sprayed on the top of the vehicle. Any unused powder is collected then mixed with more virgin powder to produce reclaimed powder, which is used to spray the bottom of the vehicle.

The paint mix rooms house tanks containing 14 colors, plus two spare tanks for replacement or new colors. The anti-static floors are lined with a special coating, grounding anything that enters the room to eliminate potential fire hazards. All paint tubs were re-used from former Chrysler facilities in Newark.

Located on the third floor of the new paint shop, three separate paint booths allow for tri-coat paints to be handled on separate lines in order to keep vehicles moving through the process. Each vehicle spends approximately 30 minutes in each of the three ovens: topcoat, powder and sealer. There are four burner boxes supporting each oven to eliminate fumes and coolers located at the end to decrease vehicle temperature. Clear visibility across the powder, color and topcoat booths through the use of glass walls allows for ideal visual management throughout the fully robotic system.

The Topcoat System utilizes three recirculating spray booths to maximize energy conservation. The 68 wall-mounted robots spray waterborne basecoat and 2K clear coat. Like the Powder Primer System, the Topcoat System integrates a pressurized conveyor shroud to minimize paint overspray contamination.

Within a paint shop, the most significant energy users are the paint spray booths, requiring several million cubic feet of air per minute with very tight temperature and humidity specifications. The booths utilize natural gas, electricity and water in order to meet stringent process control requirements. The paint shop at SHAP uses a “Cascading Air/Recirculating Air” process to significantly reduce energy and water usage by replacing 100 percent of the fresh air from outside with mainly recycled ambient plant air as the input to the paint spray booths, then 90 percent of the air is re-circulated. This innovation results in an annual energy and water savings of $1.1 million, averting approximately 10,000 metric tons of air pollutants through direct and indirect energy reduction, while also reducing water use by more than 7,500 cubic meters.

This process is also practiced at other Chrysler Group locations, including the Brampton (Ont.) Assembly Plant and Toledo (Ohio) North Assembly Plant.

Building the next generation vehicle
While the most visible and significant changes to the SHAP facility were the addition of the new paint and body shops, which together utilize 22 percent less energy than the old facilities, the assembly plant is making improvements to cater to the next generation of vehicles in Chrysler Group’s pipeline. In preparation for the production of the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200, SHAP installed a Work Place Integration (WPI) room to continue advancing the plant’s progress in WCM. In the WPI room, every operation in every workstation for the assembly of the new 200 is reviewed; best practices evaluated and processes verified before a single vehicle is built. Using ICIDO virtual technology, the movements of each operator are simulated and evaluated in the WPI room to ensure that they are working with precision and addressing ergonomic concerns upfront, before the first vehicle is built.

As a result of the WPI process, smaller teams have been created – one team leader to six team members (previously 10 to 1) – to establish better communication, awareness and expedited problem solving. Learning from vehicle launches at other facilities, SHAP management began familiarizing its workers with the new 2015 Chrysler 200 by building early prototypes on the existing lines throughout the plant and on both shifts.

With production of the all-new 2015 200, SHAP will bring in-house the assembly of the rear suspension, which was previously outsourced. By bringing this process in-house, the Company will realize greater cost savings, eliminate logistical challenges and enhance build quality. Through the many WCM audits over the last four years, SHAP was able to reconfigure its equipment to accommodate this addition within the plant’s existing footprint. The rear suspension line is reinforced with wood floors and aligned specifically to optimize ergonomics for the assembly workers.

Another significant change to the assembly plant is the addition of the Quality Assurance Center (QAC), which performs extensive testing and analysis on parts received from suppliers in order to guarantee the highest quality components. The convenience of the QAC allows for immediate feedback to suppliers. The QAC houses a chemical and vibration analyses conducted by certified chemists in its laboratory, but also manages testing in appearance, mechanics/chassis, weight, heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) and underbody. A sample of assembled vehicles is randomly selected to run through the QAC each day.

In addition to the rear suspension system and the QAC, another improvement made at SHAP in preparation for the 2015 Chrysler 200 includes the addition of a Materials Conveyance System. This system automatically moves material to the proper location on the line in pre-selected kits, making the assembly process more efficient for the operator and helping to improve quality. Additionally, the system allows the plant to be 100 percent fork-free, resulting in a cleaner and safer environment for employees.

“After being slated for closure, every person at SHAP is humbled and honored to be contributing to the success of the Company’s newest vehicle,” said SHAP Plant Manager Minner. “This is our second chance, and we are proud to be helping Chrysler Group shine again.”

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