Also see: 2011 Toledo North plant tour
The Chrysler-Toledo story began in 1903, when Albert A. Pope took over Toledo Steamer. When the 1907 recession shut down Pope’s car companies, John North Willys bought the huge Toledo plant for Overland Motor Company. (Another consequence that would have major ramifications for Chrysler: Owen R. Skelton then left his engineering job at Pope-Toledo to become a transmission specialist for Packard, sending him on his way to join with Carl Breer and Fred Zeder.) Toledo remained Willys-Overland’s primary plant through the creation of the Jeep, World War II, and the postwar boom.
In 1953, Kaiser bought Willys-Overland for $63 million, primarily to get a product (Jeep) which had no real domestic competitors, coupled to a thriving export and international licensing business (including India’s Mahindra) — major boons for a small car company with fierce domestic competitors. Kaiser changed the name to Willys Motors, and combined its production and sales organizations, rapidly turning the company around.
A great deal of money was raised almost immediately, because Kaiser was being able to sell its massive Willow Run plant to General Motors to replace an automatic transmission plant destroyed by fire; Kaiser moved into the Willys Toledo plant, GM moved into Willow Run, and Kaiser pocketed almost enough to pay for Willys.
Willys’ Jeep Parkway plant, above, was well established when, in 1942, the Stickney Plant was built by Autolite; in 1964, AMC bought it for use as a machining and engine plant.
In 1962, the corporate name was changed to the Kaiser Jeep Corporation. To quote Bill Watson, after 1955, “Willys Motors never looked back, becoming a nice little source of income for the Kaisers.”
On March 3, 1964, Kaiser Jeep took over Studebaker’s military vehicle production contracts as the latter shut down their operations, acquiring Studebaker’s Chippewa Avenue Plant as part of the deal. In the same year, AMC purchased Autolite’s 22-year-old Stickney plant, to use for machining and building engines.
Toledo Machining (in Perrysburg) opened in 1967, and was expanded in 1969; from then until the present day it built various components for numerous Chrysler factories and vehicles.
In 1970, American Motors (AMC) bought the U.S. operations of Kaiser Jeep; this company, the result of a union between Hudson and Nash, spun the military vehicle operations off into AM General a year later.
In 1981, the Stickney plant was converted to build the Jeep Grand Wagoneer, becoming the Toledo Assembly Plant when Chrysler Corporation acquired AMC in 1987. Wagoneer production stopped in 1991, and the plant was demolished, replaced by Toledo North and the Toledo Supplier Park (Toledo South).
In 1996, nearly 40% of the Jeep Cherokees made in Toledo were shipped outside the United States; half of all Cherokees were for customers outside North America.
In the early 2000s, Tom LaSorda approached three key suppliers and offered them lucrative and exclusive contracts if they built Chrysler a new Wrangler plant in Toledo. That is how Kuka, Hyundai, and Magna, came to build the Wrangler (though Chrysler does final assembly).
While the plant cost Chrysler practically nothing when it was built, and has twice been named the most efficient assembly plant in North America by Harbour, this approach limits Chrysler’s profits and quality control.
What does the future hold? The Jeep Wrangler will be emphasized going forward, and new variants will be built.
If Chrysler were to buy out its suppliers, it could add to the plant to build additional capacity with minimal investment; but that would require a determination that demand will increase substantially as the Wrangler and its variants are introduced across Fiat's global dealer network. Without some kind of production increase for Wrangler — in Toledo or the conversion of a second plant overseas —there is no way to build enough Wranglers or Wrangler derivatives in Toledo to meet even incremental increased global demand that will come naturally from being part of Fiat's global sales network.
Toledo North was completed in 2001, four years after its groundbreaking, at the cost of $1.2 billion. The 2.1 million square foot plant started out with 2,969 employees. Toledo South continued to make the Wrangler.
The Chrysler Digital Factory system, was based on Jeep’s Toledo facility, where the Liberty set new standards for build quality, beating nearly all Mercedes models in quality rankings.
The Toledo North Assembly Plant, or T-NAP, was designed to be as technologically advanced as possible. It uses a system that lifts and lowers the body as it moves from station to station (a method pioneered by Volvo in the 1970s).
An electronic notification system, also used in the Brazil Dakota plant, notified closely-tied suppliers of needs "just in time." The system is specific, letting suppliers know when a vehicle is scheduled and started so they can do their part to outfit it. There is almost no inventory, and most delivered parts are used right away, which means it is susceptible to traffic and other problems.
The Jeep plant was designed using UGS' e-VIS software, which allows for 3D factory and process design. An ergonomic analysis was conducted for all 200 workstations, using a simulated employee, whose moves were carefully modelled. Time and motion and health (e.g. back strain) could all be studied by computer - along with such niceties as clearance (would people and parts fit in the allotted space?). A full model of the plant allowed for a simulation with cars running down the conveyors, and virtual workers actively picking up and attaching parts.
In 2005, the Toledo plants at Stickney Avenue and Jeep Parkway, which made the Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, employed 1,329 people, while Toledo North, building the Liberty, employed 2,658 people. A nearby machining plant employed 1,638 people to make steering columns and torque converters.
The Toledo North Assembly Plant, home of the Liberty, was the first Chrysler facility built using manufacturing simulation for only $54 per square foot, an industry benchmark when compared to the industry average of $70-80 per square foot.
In 2006, the Supplier Park at Toledo South opened; it made the body and chassis of the Wrangler, painting it as well. Owned and operated in partnership with KUKA, Magna Steyr, and OMMC starting in 2006, the Supplier Park had 3,408 employees in its 2.5 milion sqare foot facility, built at a cost of $2.1 billion.
For 2007, the Toledo North Plant was retooled to manage building two different models on one production line (Nitro and Liberty) and to improve quality, productivity, and worker ergonomics. At the core of the new flexible manufacturing process was a body shop with 150 robots instead of the vehicle-specific heavy tooling that was previously used. The door, hood and liftgate assembly system was new, as were the side aperture assembly systems.
Only the robots' "hands" needed to change to build the different models, and that was done automatically, within the time it took to cycle from one vehicle to the next. TNAP could vary production between two products anywhere from 0 to 100 percent of each model. A third model could also be piloted — or test-built — at the same time, helping reduce the time needed to make new-model changeovers.
An inbound parts sequencing center housed in the Stickney complex managed more than 1,800 different parts, and provided parts metering, kitting, and container management to both Toledo plants. A significant portion of TNAP was fork-truck-free as dollies provided materials to production areas, improving safety and productivity.
A new model workplace model let employees design their own work stations. These changes provide a better work environment for employees and give increased support to assembly line team members. (This is presumably part of the empowered team system of management.)
For 2008, a $638 million investment to build the new Liberty included multiple plant upgrades, improving quality, productivity and worker ergonomics. More than 160,000 square feet were added to the plant floor to enhance body and assembly processes. Chrysler wrote, “The 2.1-million-square-foot Toledo North Assembly Plant occupies 200 acres and has more than 2,700 employees working two shifts, with the third shift of approximately 750 employees to begin in the third quarter.”
Toledo North, though fairly new, was thoroughly revamped before the first 2014 Jeep Cherokee ran down the line. The most visible change is the addition of a 252,000 square-foot building expansion to the existing body shop. It took about three weeks and nearly 80 trucks a day to remove all of the old equipment. The new equipment began arriving over 60 days in about 40 trucks a day.
The new Toledo body shop is nearly identical to the one in Belvidere for greater flexibility and the ability to easily swap vehicles between plants. The Toledo body shop can build up to four different models on the same line, and has skylights and large windows to provide natural sunlight, with lighting and ventilation controlled by computers to reduce energy usage. Whenever production is halted, the building lighting, supply fans and building exhausts are set back.
The body shop uses 963 robots and a standard equipment design for many of the welding and sealing processes developed jointly by Chrysler Group and FIAT. This design, the BRIC (Basic Robot Integrated Configuration), allows the robots, equipment and electrical control panels to be shipped as a complete unit, so a welding or sealing station can be installed at the plant in an hour, cut down from several days. Robots can be mounted overhead, which reduces model changeover time as the station is accessible, and eliminates tripping hazards.
The expansion provided for insourcing underbody subassemblies, previously contracted to Hyundai Mobis. The body shop expansion was built without load bearing trusses, saving about $1.35 million in construction costs and reducing construction time as building material was easy to obtain.
To ensure that the equipment in the body shop is kept in “like-new” condition, robots are hung from above in the BRIC design, which allows for easy cleaning, inspection and lubrication. These initiatives also improve safety by reducing or eliminating tripping hazards caused from cables and utilities that traditionally would have been on the floor.
The 2014 Jeep Cherokee uses lasers extensively for measurement and welding, including a roof laser braze welding process (the laser melts silicon wire, applied by four robots, between the body side aperture and roof panel, for a seamless transition that eliminates the need for extra trim). Laser brazing, widely used by Fiat, was first used by Chrysler for the 2011 Chrysler 300 and Dodge Charger, and is used on the 2013 Dodge Dart.
The Jeep Cherokee also has an automated closure panel installation line. Each body shell is precisely measured on critical dimensional aspects; the data tells the robots exactly how to install the liftgate, doors, fenders, and hood panels, and how to cut the front rails. In addition, the new Open Gate Framer can build four different car models, using 18 robots, eight on the floor and 10 hung from above, to panels to the body.
Chrysler added a 25,000 square-foot Metrology Center to the plant. Now used in Chrysler plants, the Metrology Centers employ 30 people, who use state-of-the-art inspection equipment to measure and certify plant processes and supplier parts, to identify deviations before customer vehicles are built.
The paint shop was upgraded as well:
In preparation for the production, the plant set up a Work Place Integration (WPI) room to continue advancing the plant’s progress; every operation was reviewed, best practices evaluated, and processes verified before a single vehicle was built. Using virtual technology, the movements of each operator were simulated to attack ergonomic concerns. Team leaders were selected to integrate improvements, leading to the implementation of best practices in more than 4,800 operations.
One of the other significant process changes was the installation of a flexible decking line. Toledo Assembly Complex is the first Chrysler Group assembly plant, and one of only four Fiat facilities, to install a flex decking line. An enormous structure in the middle of the plant, the flex decking line operates on three levels. On the lower level, the built-up front and rear suspension pallets are loaded by gantry robots on to a main pallet. The main pallet travels along the line where all of the additional components are assembled to complete the chassis. Once complete, the chassis pallet is moved to the second level, where it is married to the body. Robots automatically fasten the chassis to the body in two stations, making 24 connections. Before moving down the line, the system verifies that all connections have been completed to the proper specifications.
Under the flex decking line is a complete underground conveyor system. Because the system was being installed in an existing facility, the team needed to find a way to move the completed front and rear suspensions to the flex decking line without interrupting material flow. (For the first time, both suspension systems are being built in-house on two separate lines that run parallel to the flex decking line in order to control dimensional quality.)
The underground conveyor system, which is ten feet underground, takes the completed front suspension directly to the flex decking line. The rear suspension is transported first to a rear alignment station by automated guided vehicles (AGVs), then travels underground to the flex decking line.
Other changes to match the new architecture or increase flexibility include:
Old Toledo North plant: 1994-95 Dakota.
New Toledo North plant: 2001-present, Liberty; 2006-present, Dodge Nitro
Toledo South plant: 1986-present Jeep Wrangler
Thanks to Michael Misetich for corrections.
Also see... Factory photos: 2009 Dodge Ram - 1995 Neon - Chrysler LeBaron Convertible - Newark Assembly Plant
Working at the plant: Dave Tyjeski (2009), Bill Wetherholt (2009), Matt Wetherholt (2009), Views (2002), Teamwork (1998)
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