LANSING, Mich. -- Cadillac is less than two years away from the launch of its next-generation CTS sedan, but its engineers are already on the plant floor.
Cadillac is dispatching teams of product development engineers - 10 a month - to General Motors' Lansing Grand River plant here to work the assembly line alongside hourly employees.
The engineers are required to work two days on the line. They have to bring packed lunches and eat with employees. And the engineers should be able to find one part of the assembly process that can be improved for Cadillac's future models.
"It's all about creating designs that are easier to build more consistently," says Dave Leone, chief engineer on GM's Sigma rear-wheel-drive architecture used in the CTS. "This way they have an appreciation for the complexity of designs, especially when you are trying to put designs together at 30 or 35 jobs per hour."
Leone has been involved in similar projects at other plants before. But it is new for Lansing Grand River, GM's newest and most advanced plant.
Phil Kienle, the assistant plant manager, says production issues come to light when engineers are allowed to work next to hourly employees.
"On paper, there might be 15 millimeters of clearance for your hand to install a particular part, but when you attempt to do it, there's no way it can be done," Kienle says. "There's a lot of learning that goes both ways."
Each engineer is required to give a detailed analysis of how the production process can be improved.
Leone says his team of about 100 engineers will work through the end of the year at the plant and will apply the knowledge gained to the next-generation CTS, as well as other Sigma vehicles. GM also builds the Cadillac STS sedan and SRX sport wagon on the architecture.
Industry insiders say the CTS will be restyled and re-engineered for the 2008 model year.
Leone says his team also is working at dealerships throughout the country in two-day sessions that teach engineers the ins and outs of selling cars.
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