Story by Christopher Chrouch • Photos by Marc Rozman
Just as it was sunny outside, there was a bright feeling among workers at Chrysler Sterling Heights Assembly Plant in Sterling Heights, MI. The factory sits on Van Dyke Avenue, just seven miles from the city of Detroit; it had been slated to close in 2010, so today’s celebration marked an incredible journey as Chrysler launched production of the new 2015 Chrysler 200. Chrysler invited us to take an inside look at $1 billion in improvements, including a measurement, new paint and body shops, new line technology, and insourcing that helped create over 800 new jobs.
When driving past Sterling Heights Assembly, it’s hard to miss the 2 million square feet Chrysler added to the plant. Bright light streamed into the facility through many windows.
Our first stop took us the Internal Sequencing center with 450,000 square feet of space, and 19 docks. At full tilt, 54 trucks will unload daily. Over one million parts will be sorted every day (1,138 different parts). The addition of the center added 206 new jobs.
The second stop was the center console assembly, which employs WCM principles to drastically improve installation efficiency. One of the benefits of installing the electronic rotary shifter in the new 200 is the addition of the pass through storage area and additional media connectivity. Even more beneficial to Chrysler was it eliminated the traditional floor shifter; while workers would have to maneuver the center console over the floor mounted unit, the new console slides right in, saving time and money.
Stop Three led us to the rear suspension build line (see separate section below). Our last stop in the general assembly area led us to the 41,493 square foot Metrology Center (also shown in a separate section, below).
The lighting of the plant is clearly better than in older facilities, especially when one looks at color — which has been a problem in the past. Presumably learning from experiments in other plants, including the Brampton facility which was recently ISO certified for energy efficiency, Chrysler paid special attention to lighting in some particular areas. The “finesse deck,” where paint quality is inspected, has cut glare and eye fatigue by using optimized light intensity for each car color being inspected. Black cars get full intensity, for example, while white cars get 50%. This cuts glare and vision issues, while saving energy. Chrysler is the first auto company in North America to implement these lights along the final paint review line.
Next was the new body and paint shop, which is physically separated from the main plant. We have a separate page to cover the body and paint shop (there’s another link at the end of this page).
Stop Three led us to the rear suspension build line, which Chrysler installed in August 2013. The RSBL is a 14 stop process to assemble the rear suspension. Chrysler added 18 jobs as they insourced work previously done by a tier one supplier, allowing an even faster JIT delivery to the main assembly line, while eliminating the need for shipping and storage racks. The line was added to the facility without ever disrupting production of the last model 200 and Avenger.
Quality is a major concern for Chrysler now, and the plant is replete with poster boards, signs, and centers to keep track of, and resolve, problems. A great deal of training and technology has gone into tracing down problems quickly, figuring out root causes, and fixing them. As with all Fiat and Chrysler plants, a precise “metrology center” (correctly, that would be a metrics or measurement center) has been installed to measure both the plant’s output and its input — the dimensional accuracy of parts supplied to the plant, and of the cars it makes.
The “Metrology Center” is an incredibly clean work environment with very bright white lighting; inside you’ll see models and different parts used to assemble the new Chrysler 200. Some of these parts are perfect models that are used to help perfect fit and finish. Chrysler will constantly pull parts off the line (doors, hoods, etc.) and measure them to ensure quality benchmarks are being met. Laser scanning and white light fixtures allow 4D mapping of parts.
See the paint and body shops including the “car rotisserie”
Present to answer questions and provide information to the media were various plant and corporate managers and engineers, including Ericc Boewe, Chris Kulka, Mike Rousseau, Justin Freeman, Dennis Rimkus, Georg Wainz, Robert Hathaway, Michael Lawrence, Brian Kelly, Ron McNeill, John Saari, Dan Koessler, Michael Goleski, and Hubert Dziorny. Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne, Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, UAW president Bob King, and Sterling Heights Mayor Richard Notte were among the speakers.
Since June 2009, Chrysler has announced investments of over $5 billion and added over 13,300 hourly employees.
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