Few auto assembly plants run three shifts. Even fewer run their shifts around the clock. Chrysler Group's Warren Truck Assembly Plant (WTAP) in Warren, Mich., has defied the odds and made a three-shift operation part of its normal routine in order to keep up with the demand for the popular Dodge Ram and Dodge Dakota pickup trucks.
The third shift -- equaling approximately 900 new jobs -- was added in early 2004. It not only increased the plant's capacity, but also improved its flexibility to accommodate the all-new 2005 Dodge Dakota, meet ever-changing customer demands, and add future product.
"Warren Truck is a model for flexible manufacturing. It has the ability to build numerous permutations of multiple body styles on one assembly line," said Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler Group Executive Vice President - Manufacturing. "Add to that one of the few plants operating 24 hours a day, up to six days a week, and you have a world-class facility, raising the bar for this type of operating schedule in the industry."
While the addition of the third shift was one of the most significant transformations at WTAP, other modifications have been made in anticipation of the launch of the new Dakota. New manufacturing technologies and processes were incorporated. They include major changes to the cab and box framing and box sub-assembly areas, the body shop and the paint shop to accommodate the unique body panels of each vehicle.
About $100 million was invested to prepare the plant for the 2005 Dakota.
Just a few short years ago, $156 million was invested in preparation for the launch of the 2002 Dodge Ram. Add to that another $35 million invested in a third shift and the Chrysler Group has made substantial improvements to upgrade a brownfield site. Those upgrades will allow for rolling vehicle launches and test-build pilot vehicles while not interrupting current model production.
"With these changes, if product strategy calls for a product derivative, then manufacturing is better poised to support the launch of the new model," said Bob Bowers, Warren Truck Assembly Plant Manager. "If the vehicle has the same underbody and a different 'top hat,' then it makes it easier for us to build."
The launch of the Dakota allowed for a restructuring of the plant's materials handling system to accommodate the greater complexity and variety of parts. Parts are now shipped in small, pre-configured, pre-sequenced lots and delivered to the plant floor in small batches, better utilizing floor space and allowing for greater options available to customers.
The launch team also implemented a "Protect the Customer" (PTC) line, which is an additional vehicle inspection line focusing on customer touch points and potential process defects. Issues discovered in the PTC are tracked back through the system for corrective action and future prevention. Warren Truck is one of many Chrysler Group plants that has implemented this type of initiative, ensuring that only the highest quality vehicles are being delivered to customers.