Chrysler using digital modeling to speed up powertrain builds
Brian Harlow: The digital models "allow us to identify choke points in the manufacturing process."
Photo credit: Joe Wilssens
TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Chrysler Group is creating advanced three-dimensional digital models of its powertrain plants and the machinery in them to accelerate introductions of new transmissions and engines.
Brian Harlow, Chrysler's global head of powertrain manufacturing, said the digital models developed by Strategic Manufacturing Solutions LLC, of suburban Detroit, have allowed Chrysler to shave time and save money as it launches new 8-speed and 9-speed automatic transmissions in several of its vehicles.
The new transmissions are being licensed from ZF Friedrichshafen AG and built by Chrysler in its massive transmission complex in Kokomo, Ind., with the 8-speed set to roll out in September for the 2013 Ram pickup and the 9-speed set to debut in 2013.
Harlow, in an interview here during the 2012 Management Briefing Seminars, said teams from SMS created fully-integrated three-dimensional digital models of the assembly lines and machinery in Kokomo before they were installed, allowing plant executives and team leaders on the floor to spot conflicts and make adjustments to reduce waste and inefficiency.
Harlow planned to detail more about the process later today during a presentation at the annual conference.
Prior to the digital modeling, Harlow said engineers would use less-accurate two-dimensional representations to plan work flows and machine placement, "but the first time we would see it all together was when it was installed on the plant floor." It would then take weeks or months to smooth out any unforeseen issues that might arise, such as machinery conflicts or a workstation with an inefficient design.
The interactive models are exact digital replicas of the real-world machinery within the plants, right down to individual components on individual machines. The models allow Chrysler to digitally design the way workers do their tasks in the assembly process and can identify potential stresses to avoid injuries and increase productivity, Harlow said.
The digital models "allow us to identify choke points in the manufacturing process," Harlow said, so that if Chrysler needs to boost production beyond the existing line's capacity, the digital models can identify which machines need upgrading, and which can handle the additional flow.
Harlow said Chrysler began working with SMS in August 2010 to create digital models of all of its transmission and engine plants. He estimated that at the Kokomo facility alone, the digital models saved months of time and about $13 million in engineering launch costs as part of that facility's $1.3 billion upgrades to produce the 8-speed and 9-speed transmissions.
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