A brief ride north of Detroit, the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) was converted (by Volkswagen) from missile production to automobiles in 1980, but VW never used it; they sold it to Chrysler Corporation in 1983. The plant build the Chrysler LeBaron GTS/Dodge Lancer, Shadow/Sundance, Dodge Daytona, and JA (Stratus/Cirrus/Breeze); the plant has remained dedicated to Chrysler’s midsized ever since. See the full history.
In June 2011, Chrysler held a groundbreaking ceremony for a new body shop, around 25% bigger than the existing body shop. It is, indeed, massive in size — and connected by two enclosed conveyors (these photos were taken in October 2013. The “old” plant is on the left, the new one is on the right. Together, the new state of the art paint and body shops cost over $1 billion.
Chrysler’s Jodi Tinson told us that the “horizontal fence” structures below are over the employee walkways to the new paint shop, and are essentially decorative. The new buildings were placed relatively far due to space constraints on the site.
The new facilities were ostensibly created for the 2015 Chrysler 200, but some say that Sterling Heights is also intended to be an overflow facility for particularly popular vehicles, such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee; by sending, say, Dodge Durango production to Sterling Heights, Chrysler could free of Jefferson North for more Jeep production. The range of vehicles that can be produced in Sterling Heights is unknown, but believed to be quite wide.
The new paint and body shops make SHAP one of Chrysler’s most flexible and advanced production facilities.
The plant began implementing “World Class Manufacturing” (WCM) in June 2009. The plant is both preparing for the 2015 Chrysler 200 launch and trying to achieve Bronze status.
The body shop is the third of a new design that is fully cross loadable with any model from the Compact U.S. Wide (CUSW) range of products (Dart, Cherokee, and 200), after Belvidere, Illinois and Toledo, Ohio. Fiat has two similar body shops, in Italy and Serbia.
The main lines are modular, referred to as a BRIC (Basic Robot Integrated Configuration); robots, equipment, and control panels are shipped as a complete unit, so there is no need to disassemble and reassemble the equipment. Robots can be mounted overhead, cutting changeover time as the station is accessible; eliminates tripping hazards; eases maintenance; and is easier to manage than conventional welding systems.
The body shop uses lasers for brazing and welding; an intense laser-light beam melts a piece of silicon wire, applied by four robots, into a predetermined location between the body side aperture and roof panel, cutting variation and eliminating the need to cover the attachment area with a secondary trim component. Laser braze, widely used by Fiat, was first used by Chrysler in Brampton (2011 Charger/300), then for the 2013 Dart and 2014 Cherokee. This automated technology improves aerodynamics, quality, and process costs.
The body shell enters a cell and four robots with measurement lasers precisely measure each body, so the robots know exactly how the decklid, doors, fenders and hood panels should be installed. This process ensures each vehicle meets exacting fit and finish. These measurements are used later to guide lasers to precisely cut the front rails of the car to length, for a precision mounting surface for the front-end module.
One area that was jointly developed by Chrysler 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.
A measurement center uses a Meisterbock gauge and blue light laser scanners that allow for 3-D measurement and certification of plant processes and incoming supplier parts, to identify deviations and root causes starting with the early pilot builds.
Bernie Mitchell, Director, Manufacturing Engineering Body-In-White, said, “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. 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.” (This echos and builds on Chrysler’s work of the 1990s, before Daimler took over.)
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 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. 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 is one of only five facilities in the world with a 180° 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 body is flipped completely upside down to ensure sealing in seams, engine/cowl compartments, and hem flanges. Gravity ensures the proper seal, and if manual quality checks are needed, allows operators to work in the “golden zone,” the 60- degree window directly in front of them. Of the 36 operating robots on the UBS/UBC line, eight were recycled from the former Newark (Delaware) and St. Louis paint shops.
Chrysler 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 for evaluating paint quality.
The new paint facility also uses a 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.
Chrysler uses powder primer as a base coat to provide better chip resistance and durability than liquid primer [this started with the 1995 Neon]. 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, Delaware.
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 around 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 tight temperature and humidity controls. The booths utilize natural gas, electricity and water in order to meet stringent process control requirements. The paint shop at SHAP uses a unique “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 recirculated. This innovation results in an annual energy and water savings of $1.8 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.
While the most visible and significant changes to the SHAP facility were the addition of the new paint and body shops, the assembly plant is making improvements to cater to the next generation of vehicles in Chrysler Group’s pipeline. Those improvements will result in SHAP utilizing 62 percent less energy to build the all-new 2015 Chrysler 200 than used to produce its outgoing predecessors.
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 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 2015 200, SHAP will bring assembly of the rear suspension in-house; it was previously outsourced. The rear suspension line is reinforced with wood floors and aligned specifically to optimize ergonomics for the assembly workers.
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.
A Quality Assurance Center (QAC) was added, to test and analyze parts and provide immediate feedback to suppliers. The QAC houses a chemical and vibration analyses conducted by certified chemists in its laboratory, as well as testing in appearance, mechanics/chassis, weight, heating, ventilation and cooling (HVAC) and underbody. A random sample of cars is runs through the QAC each day.
A new Materials Conveyance System moves material to the proper location on the line in pre-selected kits, allowing the plant to be fork-free.
“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.”
Most images on this page were taken from a Chrysler movie on building the 2015 Chrysler 200 (below).
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