BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – General Motors is developing a plan to create standardized manufacturing equipment packages tailored to different regions.
GM has been trying to standardize its manufacturing equipment and processes for about a decade. The strategy saves money, among other reasons, by allowing the company to buy equipment in higher volumes.
The new plan will allow the company to save money with common equipment and processes but also tailor a plant to local conditions, said James Wiemels, general manager of GMs Metal Fabricating division.
Wiemels, who had been vice president of global manufacturing process until the end of April, said that commonizing the ways GM designs and builds vehicles have been key factors in the automakers improved performance on quality and cost. He made his remarks at the Automotive News New American Manufacturers conference on Tuesday, May 6.
Under the bill of equipment concept, the type of equipment an assembly plant uses to build vehicles would be tailored to the economic needs of the region where the plant is located, Wiemels said. A plant in a low-wage area could make greater use of manual equipment, while a plant in a high-wage region that builds the same product could make greater use of robots.
The project is still in development, Wiemels said, as managers plot the automakers assembly plants and the type of equipment best suited to each. The project team includes experts from GMs plants in low-wage regions such as Mexico, Poland and Brazil.
Any changes at an assembly plant would likely be timed to coincide with a major model changeover, Wiemels said.
This is how we are leveraging the size of GM, making use of the expertise and capacity, Wiemels said.
The automaker has spent the last decade working to get its various marketing, engineering and manufacturing divisions to act as a single company. At one time, GMs car and truck plants in North America used different control equipment, making it hard and expensive to move production engineers back and forth between different plants.
The result, Wiemels noted, was periods of time where some engineers were forced into overtime, while other engineers had little to do.
Wiemels, who has headed manufacturing at GM Europe and was chairman of Holden Ltd., has been driving the automakers Global Manufacturing System into its North American plants. As of May 1, he has been put in charge of the Metal Fabricating division.
The next challenge, Wiemels said, is to install the common processes globally. But it will take several years, he noted.
GM has taken some first steps. All plants around the world have standardized on a rectangular 42-pin connector for robots North American car plants have used round connectors. That one small change will save GM millions of dollars over time, Wiemels said.
One issue with commonizing around the world is that every region believes that it has the best solution. GMs solution is to bring experts together, benchmark inside and outside the company and make a choice.
Wiemels said, We all bleed GM blue, but we dont necessarily share the same blood type.