Photos by Marc Rozman • Main “Building the 200” Page
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.
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 SHAP body shop is 1,021,487 square feet in size. With 1,102 robots, the body shop has a four-model capability and is the most flexible line in the company. Once you enter the building, you have to wear a white coat over clothes, and pass through an air shower that blasts workers with air to remove dust and other contaminants.
The body shop features bright white lighting but most noticeable in the Friction Drive System (FDS) conveyor setup, which is cleaner and quieter than the older chain driven conveyor systems. The eight-mile-long FDS pushes cars using pressure discs; it cuts equipment cost, energy consumption, noise and maintenance costs, while decreasing sources of contamination due to the lack of chain oil. Troubleshooting is easier because segments are local, not plant-wide; there is no constant drag from moving thousands of pounds of chain all day long; and different segments can go at different speeds.
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.
Up to the third floor of the SHAP body shop is the new paint shop, the most flexible and capable paint shop in the company; it has 935,758 square feet of space, 112 robots, six ovens, 24 paint mix systems, and both new equipment and reused assets from the Newark Assembly and St Louis North.
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 new paint facility uses a Friction Drive System (FDS) to move cars on eight miles of conveyor through the paint process. The system uses pressure discs instead of conveyor chains; it has fewer moving parts and costs less, yet reduces energy use (partly because sections run only when needed) and noise. The low-power system reduces damage when problems occur; and conveyor speeds can be changed individually, with sections run above 60 FPM if needed. It’s easier to integrate with other automation systems, and any problems are localized. The lack of chain oil is also an advantage, cutting the potential for contamination.
The FDS allowed nine miles of chain to be removed from the system — that’s 658,000 pounds of chain not being pulled all day long; individual motors operate only when needed. No compressed air is needed, either.
Chrysler uses powder primer as a base coat for better chip resistance and durability than liquid primer and eliminate the release of volatile organic compounds, which would have to be burned with an incinerator or catalyst-based system. The company started using powder with the 1995 Neon, and the system worked extremely well after some early issues.
The Powder Primer System uses eight wall-mounted robots, cutting contamination with a pressurized conveyor shroud. Around 97% (the company reported 95%-99%) of the powder material is used; new powder is used exclusively for the top of the car, while reclaimed powder is mixed with more pure powder to spray the bottom.
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 paint spray booths require millions of cubic feet of air per minute with tight temperature and humidity controls; they use natural gas, electricity, and water to meet process control requirements. The paint shop at SHAP uses a unique “Cascading Air/Recirculating Air” process to cut energy and water usage, by using mainly recycled ambient plant air as the input to the paint spray booths; 90% of the air is recirculated. This results in an annual energy and water savings of $1.8 million over the old system of using outside air, averting around 10,000 metric tons of air pollutants through direct and indirect energy reduction, while cutting water use by more than 7,500 cubic meters.
The rotating car carrier was developed by Volvo back in the 1960s, when CEO Pehr Gyllenhammar was looking for ways to cut absenteeism. Having the car bodies move around slashed employees’ back strain and increased the intrinsic rewards of coming to work, while raising quality, since workers did not have to work at awkward angles. (Mr. Gyllenhammar eventually concluded that most of his work enrichment efforts raised quality significantly, with minor increases in productivity and a minor increases in cost — but overall costs went down as quality went up.)
Today, 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.
The Underbody Coating System uses these rotating carriers; there’s a mockup UBC station that allows Chrysler to train workers on right in the plant.
Eight of the underbody coating system robots were recycled from the former Newark (Delaware) and St. Louis paint shops.
Our next stop at SHAP took us back downstairs to the Quality Assurance Center, where new cars are checked on an alignment machine for wheel alignment, ride height, etc. There’s a CFM machine to check for air leaks, water leaks, missing sealers etc. The SHAP QAC will also check headlight aim, door closing effort, sunroof pinch, and other facets to ensure a world-class vehicle.
Our last stop in the SHAP body shop is a magical robotic playland that welds the body together. Watch the video to see how the magic happens.
It’s groundbreaking investments and the workers of SHAP that will build a class leading 200 and carry Chrysler into a solid future.
Also see this section on the paint and body shops, which has similar text but with different photography.
Main Sterling Heights page • Building the 2015 Chrysler 200 • Main plants and factories page
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