Dodge City: Chrysler’s Warren Truck Assembly Plant
The Warren Truck plant has been making Dodge trucks since 1938 (12.5 million of them, through January 2015). Warren Truck made B-vans from 1972 to 1977, and Ramcharger trucks from 1974 to 1985; the Dodge Dakota was made at Warren starting in 1987. Because trucks have so many variations, with different size cabs and beds, different engines and transmissions, and numerous other options, the Warren Truck plant has always had to be complex and flexible.
Two other plants, Sherwood and Hoover Road, used to be part of the complex, producing, respectively, heavy duty Dodge diesels (until 1975), and specialty trucks for the phone company (thanks, Bob Joye); and the famed Mound Road Engine Plant was closed in 2003, and is now used for Dodge City storage. (The Mack Avenue engine factory now produces truck engines for Warren Truck). No surprise, then, that the complex was called Dodge City.
Dodge City is on 21500 Mound Road in Warren, which is not far from Detroit; the Warren Stamping Plant is on 22800 Mound Road. Warren also hosts TACOM — because that’s where Chrysler used to build tanks for the government. The Mt. Elliott tool and die plant is also nearby. Dodge City is close to General Motors’ technical center; the next major road to the East is Van Dyke, on which sits, one city to the North, the Sterling Heights Assembly Plant and Stamping Plant. Detroit Axle is just four miles away, on Lynch Road.
Having the stamping plant right down the road helps cut inventory and provides a minor quality advantage, because fresh stampings can be used with little transport.
Parts made at other plants, including stamped body sections, are brought to WTAP, where components are welded together in the Body in White area, cleaned, and painted. The steel frame and body panels are moved via conveyor through a body cleaning and phosphate treatment step; an Electro Deposition Coating (E-Coat) dip painting process coats and primes the body surface. Then the body is painted in two parallel coating lines.
Two parallel processes take place for each truck: the body is put together, painted, and then internal components, such as seats, lights, and dashboards, are put together in the Trim area. At the same time, the chassis, or lower frame, suspension, and powertrain, is assembled on another line; they are mated and driven off the line.
Before 1996, the trucks went through the trim area with the doors on, but starting with the Dodge Dakota integration in 1996, the doors were taken off as soon as the trucks left the paint shop, and travelled down a separate line to have speakers and other parts (124 in total) installed; they were re-attached at the end of the line. The idea came from Nissan, which started doing it in 1979, so workers could avoid the open doors, space could be used more effectively, accidents could be avoided, and interior access was easier. There was a 60 second cycle time in 1996 — each person had exactly one minute to do their tasks for any particular truck. (A great deal of information on 1996 changes is in this article [off-site link].)
Also in 1996, the plant started phasing out cardboard containers and moving to plastic totes. This saved money, as they were no longer paying for single-use boxes; and was an environmental boon as many tons of waste were avoided each year. It also helped plant ergonomics, as totes were put onto roller racks, on three levels, with more comfortable heights and tilting towards the line operators. The extra flexibility cut down materials handling effort and allowed for lower inventories as replacement parts were faster and easier to send out.
The plant produces steam for industrial use with four natural gas fired boilers, three of which had (in 2003) low-NOx burners. VOC emissions were incinerated at the time.
The Warren Truck Assembly Plant
Warren Truck takes up 87 acres of land, and in 2010, employed 2,521 people (with 535 robots). In 1966, a high-flying Dodge truck division added 300,000 square foot to the plant, along with the heavy duty diesel installation facility at Sherwood. In 1998, the plant made 1,032 trucks per day in two shifts; in 1997 it build 254,511 pickups, both Rams and Dakotas, using 3,794 employees with a payroll of $205 million. The plant then had 21 miles of conveyors, 354 robots, and 397 computers, and was represented by three union locals.
Warren Truck has, in recent years, built both the Dodge Ram 1500 and the Dodge Dakota pickup. It has over ten miles of conveyors, running overhead and within reach. Because of the flexible manufacturing needed to make both Rams and Dakotas, the plant is highly computerized; in 2003 there were 1,500 carriers in a closed-loop conveyor system that goes throughout the three million square foot building. The Ram and Dakota cabs had unique carriers, while their boxes (beds) have common carriers; passive RFID tags were used to identify them, sticking with the carriers (the future trucks) even into the body wash systems, which reached 200°F, and through body welding.
During the 1980s, the plant manager changed to a team-based structure, but didn't provide any training, tools, or other supporting infrastructure; and the teams effort failed. It would, however, come back in the future.
In 1996, WTAP managers brought lean manufacturing methods to the plant, starting with door assembly; it was a pilot project which was later applied to the rest of the plant. Processes were changed so problems could be immediately detected and fixed, avoiding rework; just-in-time delivery was implemented; line-balancing (trying to keep production steady through the day and distributing work more evently) was used; and continuous improvement was adopted, using cross-training and the insights of plant workers.
In 1997, to improve quality, the Dodge City/Warren Truck Assembly Plant underwent a $170 million renovation that included a new body shop, a new 96,000 sq.ft. full-body anti-chip paint shop and a new test track facility, where every vehicle produced went through a series of road tests that simulated all road conditions. That track remained with the plant through to the present.
In 1999, the paint shops at Newark, Windsor and Warren Truck switched to a lead-free E-coat.
Warren Truck was also expanded in 2002-03; Chrysler spent $35 million to boost production by 60,000 units, to 338,000 units, adding a thousand jobs. It now includes a simulator that runs trucks along “hills” and grades; every Ram and Dakota is road tested on an internal track.
In 2005, Chrysler listed the Warren Truck Assembly Plant as having 3,712 employees. Warren Stamping at that point had 1,924 employees.
In 2007, $50 million was allocated for upgrading and retooling the Warren Truck Assembly and Warren Stamping plants to improve quality, productivity, and ergonomics. Later in the year, union members approved a new contract with Chrysler, 78% of the voting members casting their ballots for ratification; the contract included concessions but mainly dropped many job classifications and work rules for greater flexibility and the ability to move to team-based work.
Brian Williams anchored the "NBC Nightly News" live from Warren (Mich.) Truck Assembly Plant on Nov. 13, 2007, interviewing Jim Press and members of the production team. The CNBC program "Street Signs" broadcast live from the plant on the same day.
For 2008, the Warren Assembly Plant added a 200,000-square-foot body shop with new automation, including 270 new robots, several new conveyors and use of a fast, quiet pallet conveyance system. In both facilities, the trim, chassis and final areas implemented a new sun roof installation process as well as modifications to the seat delivery system.
While St. Louis North (Fenton, Missouri) had been the plant to build RamBox equipped trucks, when St. Louis was closed, RamBox production was moved to Warren.
2014 Production Upgrades
Following a 52-month sales streak for the Ram 1500, the Warren Truck Assembly Plant (once part of Michigan’s “Dodge City” complex) is planning to add capacity by 28,585 truck per year, or around 100 pickups per day.
There are two Ram pickup plants today, down from three when Daimler first took over Chrysler. While the Ram 1500 is consistently one of Chrysler’s best sellers, it was moribund and nearly dropped before a complete redesign for the 1994 model year, which pushed GM and Ford to dramatically upgrade their own pickups.
The Ram 1500 was the first vehicle to win the Motor Trend Truck of the Year award back-to-back, in 2013 and 2014.
Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne wanted to increase Ram production, but did not want to invest in a third plant. Instead, the assembly process will be changed, on the assembly line and in the body and paint shops, and the run rate changed.
The plant went through a “Work Place Integration (WPI)” process to review every operation and look at best practices. Team leaders and operators redesigned more than 353 work stations; corrected more than safety 100 issues; and moved nearly 300 parts to improve ergonomics. Assembly operators provided nearly 7,000 additional suggestions for greater efficiency.
Material and parts that were once located line-side in the chassis frame and Motorhouse lines are now gathered into kits or carriers, also known as limos. On the chassis frame line, limos attach to the truck frame, positioning larger and heavier parts, like front and rear shocks, springs and lower control arms, in the area immediately in front of the operator. Less time is spent getting parts or tools, and more attention can be paid to proper assembly.
Curt Towne, plant manager, said, “The employees actually like the kits. They like the fact that they don’t have to walk as far to grab their parts, which is a waste. That’s time that could be spent building a truck. Plus, at the end of a 10-hour day, they’re not as tired as they once were.”
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