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Chrysler: Pioneering the Digital Factory

In the mid-1990s, Chrysler started to use three-dimensional computer modelling of new plants to prevent problems before a single brick was laid. By tracking machine and human movement on the screen, Chrysler could prevent impossible situations (e.g. where a machine’s movement was restricted by a wall or another machine, or where a vehicle could not fit around a turn) without needing to change equipment or cement. They could also look for unreasonable demands on auto workers.

2000 CATIA diagram

The 2.1 million square foot Jeep Toledo North Assembly Plant, or T-NAP, was the first Chrysler plant to be completely designed using 3-D imaging (the illustration above was from a later CATIA diagram as the company had changed technology). The plant had a system that lifted and lowered bodies as they moved from station to station (credited to Mercedes, though Volov used a similar system in the 1970s). It also had an electronic system which notified suppliers of needs “just in time,” cutting inventory. It was first used in the Brazilian Dakota plant, designed before the Daimler takeover and shut down shortly afterwards.

The Jeep plant was designed using UGS’ e-VIS software, and included ergonomic analysis for all 200 workstations, using simulated employees. Time and motion and health (e.g. back strain) could all be studied by computer. The simulation had cars running down the conveyors, and virtual workers actively picking up and attaching parts.

The Toledo North Assembly Plant cost only $54 per square foot, compared to the industry average of $70-80 per square foot.

After Daimler took over Chrysler in 1998, the factory design system was switched to Dassault Systemes’ CATIA software (see above), which Chrysler had used to design cars since the 1980s. Mercedes claimed the first use of the Digital Factory in building a new Mercedes engine plant, but this “first” was merely the first time they used Dassault software.

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