Dundee Engine Plant, Michigan: the former GEMA factory

Making four-cylinder “World Engines” since its birth, the Dundee Engine Plant was created under Daimler as part of a joint venture with Mitsubishi and Hyundai. Chrysler sought out educated workers, with the idea that this would encourage continuous improvement.

GEMA building in Dundee

The plant has, indeed, won Harbour Report awards for productivity (2008 and 2009) and quickly achieved Bronze status in Fiat’s World Class Manufacturing system (2012) when it was introduced to the United States.

The plant was built on a fairly large scale, with two sections, in the belief that Hyundai and Mitsubishi would buy engines from it for their American operations; but both companies preferred to build their own engines. In 2009, Chrysler bought its partners’ shares and renamed the plant from GEMA to Dundee.

gema plant 2005

In 2011, the plant started producing 1.4 liter Fiat engines, both normal and turbocharged, for use in Mexican-made Fiat 500s and various Chrysler vehicles. Sales were disappointing, though, and the Fiat engines are expected to be returned to Italy, while the 2.0 and 2.4 liter Chrysler engines are expected to be more popular.

After the plant launch, GEMA President Coventry wrote:

Flexible machining centers in a hospital-clean manufacturing environment are the basis to the GEMA business model. Compared to the traditional transfer line process, this model incorporates part recognition and automatic changeover features to allow different products to flow down the line seamlessly; even allowing for a batch size of one. An even greater benefit that machining centers give us over transfer lines is uninterrupted flow, even if there is machine downtime. In the end, we're creating a final product with higher precision, better performance and durability that greatly exceeds each partner company's [Mitsubishi, Chrysler, and Hyundai] previous standards.

The site was announced on February 12, 2003, and includes 275 acres of land, 100 of which are landscaped “as authentic Michigan prairie,” with 1.16 million square feet of floor space. 550 employees were originally hired, and in February 2012, there were “388 employees, 367 hourly, 215 salaried, on two shifts,” according to Chrysler (you do the math because they didn’t).

inspections

The plant was to cost $700 million and ended up at $803 million when it was completed in 2004 (including both a North Plant, which started operation in 2005, and a South Plant, which started up in 2006.) Each plant is capable of producing 420,000 engines per year.

In 2009, Chryler invested $179 million to start making the Fiat 1.4, and in 2010, it put another $150 million in to expand and prepare for new engines; in late 2010, it started making the Fiat 1.4. The plant was officially renamed Dundee Engine Plant in January 2012.

Later in 2012, United Auto Workers members voted down a local contract, but later approved it under the threat of losing employment. The key issue was not wages but work rules and breaks, as Chrysler had imposed schedules that are unpopular with workers due to long hours at single shifts. The plant is now on the same contract as the corporation as a whole, as well, after operating under a separate contract.

During 2012, Dundee was awarded WCM Bronze status in recognition of matching various quality methods and indicators.

The Dundee plant, where Chrysler made a point of hiring highly educated workers, produces all of the company’s four-cylinder engines — the 2.0 and 2.4 liter “World Engines” (in both Tiger Shark and standard form), and the Fiat 1.4 liter engines used in the Fiat 500 and Dodge Dart. Until recently, the plant operated under a separate contract.

During 2013, Chrysler built a flex line at Trenton Engine, capable of building V6 or four-cylinder engines; that is to be the source of the TigerShark 2.4 for some time, while Dundee finishes building out the original 2.4 engines and the 2.0 series. Once Patriot and Compass end production, Dundee is expected to convert to Tiger Shark, and the flex line at Trenton should be devoted to V6 production, allowing a reduction in overtime at Trenton and its mirror plant in Mexico.

For the future, it appears that the 1.4 liter Fiat engines will be moved back from Dundee to Italy, due to slow sales, and Dundee will again be the sole source of four cylinders.

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