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CAT scans for blocks, and other clever Kokomo quality tricks

by David Zatz on

According to the Kokomo Perspective, the Kokomo Casting Plant—built in 1965, and still working today—has been working on better quality engines.

A casting plant makes engine blocks, transmission cases, and other large metal components. The engines themselves have traditionally been made elsewhere, including Trenton, Mack, and Dundee (Michigan) and Saltillo (Mexico), but the 2-liter “GME” turbo-four is set for production in Kokomo.

Kokomo CastingRather dated image of Kokomo workers

One quality trick was giving new castings a CAT scan—a fast 360° X-ray assembled into a single 3D image by computer, which older readers are probably familiar with (the Perspective calls it “MRI-like,” since magnetic resonance image scans also provide such images, but they use magnets instead of X-rays).

X-rays have long been used to test castings, but this was FCA US’ first use of a CAT scanner. The device costs millions of dollars, but the payback took less than a year; every block goes through it, and the company no longer has to cut into blocks to check for problems or have another plant return defects to be re-melted. Extrapolating from the quick payoff, FCA is savings at least a million dollars per year, and cutting the defect rate in its blocks and transmissions.

Changing the die lubrication process also helped; instead of adding lubrication to the die in a traditional fashion, the plant adopted pulse sprays, which cuts wear from temperature shock (potentially improving precision over the long run) and reduces toxic waste.

From before the expansion

Another new move was 3D printing, which is now used to make tooling inserts for casted dies; rather than relying on an outside vendor, the plant makes the inserts itself and assembles them on-site. A new insert can be made in one day; ordering from an outside vendor took far more time, and cost far more.  A more substantial advantage might be an engineering issue: the cooling lines can be precisely placed, but with traditional manufacturing, they would have to be drilled where the equipment made it possible. This means that coolants and lubricants can be routed in a way that keeps the dies usable for longer periods, and may prevent quality issues as well.

Meanwhile, the Kokomo transmission plants have been expanded; over 4,000 workers at the KTP (Kokomo Transmission Plant) pushed out 820,000 eight-speed automatics last year, nearly double the plant’s old capacity. The plant still managed to keep safety close to the best plants in the industry; and also pumped out older transmissions, including four-speeds for the Journey. Some of the four-speed automatic equipment, according to another article, dates back to 1986; the article quoted an employee who said the four-speed was supposed to be dropped two years ago. (KTP is easy to confuse with the nearby Tipton Transmission Plant, or TTP, and the Indiana Transmission Plants—ITP I and II. ITP I has around 1,500 employees, and makes the nine-speed and 68RFE six-speed; the plant recently hit a less-than-one-per-thousand defect rate. )

The moves at Kokomo may not be the sexist news out of FCA, but they are improving quality while cutting costs. Customers may not care much about the cost cutting, but the quality boost is attractive to all buyers.   Original source: Kokomo Perspective

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