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Ram adding capacity

by David Zatz on

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, nearly all of them;  corrected more than 100 issues that could cause injury; and moved nearly 300 parts to improve ergonomics. Nearly all of the assembly operations were trained on new processes; they provided nearly 7,000 additional suggestions on how to improve the efficiency of the line.

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.

In the Motorhouse, where the engine assembly is completed before being mated to the chassis, the Warren Truck team had to figure out a way to manage building three different engines (a gasoline V6, a diesel V6, and a V8), with over 170 unique parts and nearly 70 parts that look and feel the same, but are different. The solution was to “kit” the parts and put them not the truck, which prevents time wasted in walking to get parts, while ensuring that the right parts are installed in the right trucks.

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.”

The Warren Truck team benchmarked other plants that used kits, but their solutions were designed by the plant’s workforce, and built by their own skilled trades. The Warren Truck solution is unique because the team found a way to attach the kit to the carrier without touching it by using automated vehicles to deliver the parts to the line, which the other plants don’t do.

Variation was then moved to the kitting cell, where the parts are pulled to create the kit. Each engine is color coded.

The Warren Truck Assembly Plant, a few miles north of Detroit itself and close to the Sterling Heights plant (as well as the General Motors tech center), has built more than 13 million trucks since 1938.  It added a third shift on March 4, 2013 and currently employs more than 3,800 people, working four 10-hour days on two shifts six days per week. In 2013, the Warren Truck Assembly Plant built 291,554 Ram Trucks, up from 227,453 in 2012.

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