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Matt Wetherholt on Cost Cutting, Quality Improvement, and Stamping

Matt Wetherholt as interviewed by Jessie Eustice in 2009

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Reducing scrap in a stamping plant

There are a lot of ways that you can reduce scrap. Once that piece of steel (scrap) comes off that part as it's going through the process of being formed, trimmed, pierced, flanged, it goes off the end of the line and into a rack or a box to go directly on the vehicle at an assembly plant or somewhere else here at our plant. Once it's gone down the scrap chute, it's going out to the baler house. Once it's scrap, its value has decreased exponentially. It's scrap; it is what it is. You get what you can for it.

They have ways of cutting scrap by reducing the size of the blank. In Tool & Die, we do what's called blank development. This is where you take the blank that the steel company (supplier; US Steel, Bethlehem Steel, etc.) sends you and if there's excess metal, you find ways to eliminate that; eliminate steel, while still having enough for the part that you need to make.

The most important step is the drawing process, where your blank, a three foot by five foot piece of flat steel (for example; smaller finished parts, smaller blanks. Larger parts, larger blanks) goes into the first die, a draw die, that forms it. Once it comes out of the draw die, the shape of the part is formed. That's the final shape.

Then the next one it goes to is the one that trims it. So if you can make it go through the draw process to the next die, and have it trimmed with less steel than the original part after you've reduced the blank size, and still be able to get a good part, then you've been successful and saved the company money in the process.

IQP - Individual Quality Participation

A lot of waste goes on in stamping plants, unfortunately. I would imagine it is the same at other stamping facilities, too, and you just have to be consciously aware. They can try to drill it into your head all they want with their charts and their slogans and their "this" and their "that," but it really all comes down to the individual and whether he or she wants to (reduce scrap) or not.

If you're conscientious and you think long term, it starts with you. I think that was a slogan actually. Somewhere I saw, "It starts with you," because it does. If you want to be part of the solution, you will be. If you want to be an idiot, you're going to be an idiot. It's up to you. There are so many ways that you can reduce the amount of scrap, you just have to not be afraid to take a risk, say something if you see a way you can eliminate something.

Factory Industry Machine Iron Metal

They have procedures in place they call I.Q.P.s which refers to Individual Quality Participation. A lot of people poo-poo it and say, "Nobody's going to pay you...why bother?" Maybe on some levels that is true, but if you have a good idea, and it's going to save the company money, they're going to listen to it every time.

The IQP process is about taking ownership, trying to make a difference; even if it's something small; just a better way of doing something. It's basically just trying to copy the Japanese way of doing things. Maybe that's the thinking, or maybe it's not, but it seems like we're always trying to benchmark the Japanese; which I don't always agree with. But, it's basically just trying to take ownership, and secure your future. Hey, if there's a better way to do what you're doing, if you can do it in three steps instead of eight steps, why wouldn't you?

You present that to the people that look at that sort of thing, and if it has merit, then it's something they would definitely look at. I've seen a lot of them implemented. But, a lot of people think they have great ideas, and let's face it, their ideas are not as great as they think, but that shouldn't stop you from saying "well they didn't like that one." But people give up. People are lazy or spoiled, they just, and it's easier to make fun of the people that are submitting I.Q.P.s.

People don't want to be involved for whatever reason, I guess. That's their business, but I'm not going to sit here and tell you that I've submitted the most I.Q.P.s in Twinsburg Stamping history, because I haven't, but I go to the P.Q.I. meetings, which is the parent of the I.Q.P (P. Q. I. is a quality program that involves discussing the area that you work in, and ask questions like "Okay, what problems did we have this week," or "Is there any new business?" and maybe like "The horn on the crane is not working." Or "We need more horses down in the bull pen." And the P.Q.I. facilitator takes that to the managerial side, and they have meetings and the next time you go down to where you work, there are new horses, and the horn works on the crane, and it's just little things.

You know, you can complain all you want, but if you don't do it through the proper channels, you won't get any results. That's what the P.Q.I. is for, but I.Q.P. is just, if you're just walking along, and you just see something, and you think you can improve on whatever it is you're looking at, then you submit an I.Q.P., and if it has merit, then bully for you. If not then don't give up. People give up too easily.

Jessie: Does management ever feel threatened when people submit good ideas?

Matt: There are probably engineers, not just at Twinsburg, but throughout corporations everywhere, that really don't deserve to be where they are. It's getting better, if you want to put it that way, because of the reduction of people, where you don't have as many people working on the same job where some guy that is kind of worthless can skate by in anonymity. They expect results now. I know that's the way it is on my side of the fence.

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You're always going to have somebody that's going to try to skate, but there are engineers that don't pull their weight, and there are other guys that are ultra competitive, and see something like that, maybe as a threat, or it makes them mad because of something that maybe they didn't see, and should have. I don't know what the mindset is there. I just know that if you think you have a good idea and you think that you can help the company. I think everybody should see the big picture, but people get upset over petty things, and it's not just where I work, it's everywhere. You know, petty differences, and people have axes to grind, for whatever reason. I try real hard not to get caught up in all that, but you know, I'm guilty of it as well, at times, but for the most part I try to remain positive; upbeat.

Jessie: I've heard it makes more difference what you do after you make a mistake, than the mistake itself.

Matt: Well luckily as a die maker, if you make a mistake you can just have it welded up and you grind it back. (Laughing) But yeah, if you make a mistake, you have to learn from it, no matter what it is. Look at Edsel! Ford learned from that mistake. They say, "Those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it." That's the way it is with mistakes.

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results. You know, you can't keep thinking that you can drive 100 mph everywhere you go and not get caught eventually. You have to learn from your mistake, that's the way I see it.

Jessie: Can you talk about the advantages and disadvantages of the "Japanese way?"

Matt: Well back in the '60s and the '70's the Japanese used to tour the American auto plants. And they benchmarked what we did, just like everything else. And then they took all that back and they improved upon it.

I don't know if their way of doing business is better or not. Maybe it's all hype, I don't know. The world that we live in is so full of people who are so quick to believe anything...P.T. Barnum was on to something …

Bob Lutz and Mercedes

Jessie: Okay, changing tracks a little bit, can you talk a little about the Bob Lutz - inspired changes?

Matt: I'm relatively ignorant to Mr. Lutz's accomplishments while he was at Chrysler, but I know his contributions were significant, and he was what we needed: a "car guy". For that period of time, if he was responsible for anything, I would think he was responsible for the cab-forward design, which is what they called it. Which was the Intrepid, the LHS, The Concorde, and you know all the mid-nineties larger cars that Chrysler made that were very successful. They incorporated this design into a lot of their vehicles which made the cabs a lot roomier, and made a bigger trunk … and again, back then, I don't know what happened, but people were buying those.

Before the Germans came in, Chrysler was humming right along. If Bob Lutz had something to do with that, I would imagine that if he was on board in the upper level management of the Corporation, yeah sure, he was responsible for that, and for that I thank him, but either somebody did have some dirty dealings, or we were just sold down the river with the whole Daimler thing, because those guys just disappeared off the landscape. My father has a book, Taken For A Ride, by Bill Vlasic and Bradley A. Stertz. I'm not as educated on the matter as he is, but I do know that yeah, Bob Lutz and Bob Eaton, especially Bob Eaton, he took a nice little chunk of change with him when he left. But it was, Bob Lutz is over at GM now, and he's been very successful over there, and there's a few of the cars that GM has that were supposed to be ours.

The Pontiac Solstice, for instance, that little two-seat roadster car that they have. That was going to be our "Baby Viper", the Dodge Copperhead, that was supposed to be our car. Bob Lutz has a brilliant mind, and he left Chrysler for a reason. Whatever that reason is, you know, maybe, I mean he'd be the best one to tell you.

Jessie: Do you want to say anything else about the Daimler take-over?

I find it interesting that you say "Take-Over", because usually people try to spin it, but that's exactly what it was. It was a hostile take over disguised as a quote-unquote "merger of equals." I don't know how much money we had in our rainy-day-fund, but it was around $12 billion. As soon as Daimler came in it disappeared. All of a sudden we were buying Freightliner, a huge stake in Hyundai, another 43% of Mitsubishi, which was $16 Billion in debt. Plus, for their own vehicles.

If you go back and look at J.D.Power, those 1999, 200, 2001 Mercedes vehicles were garbage. There was a guy that I knew that bought a Mercedes SL 500, and the window in the back-door just fell down into the door. He said something to me about it, and I said "What are you talking to me for? I mean I don't work for Mercedes."

He said "Mercedes bought you guys."

I said "well, Mercedes might have bought us," (back then I was kind of in denial) "we were together, but we don't make that stuff at Twinsburg. That stuff is made in Stuttgart. I had nothing to do with that. You should have bought a Chrysler product anyhow."

It's hard to thump your chest and wave the flag with a buy-American mantra when your parent company is in Germany. But, there were a lot of people that ran out and bought a Mercedes. They got a discount on them, but I would never buy one. Even though some of them are nice and when I was in Germany all the taxicabs were either BMWs or Mercedes. You know they are nice cars and everything, but Chrysler is all I know. Chrysler put food on my table, Chrysler put clothes on my back, a roof over my head, gave me the best shot I'll ever have, so I would never in a million years buy anything that wasn't made here.

See Part I

Also see: Matt on Chrysler and the UAW | Bill Wetherholt I |Twinsburg Car Show | Factories | Other interviews

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