TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- The Chrysler group is the latest rider on the flexible manufacturing bandwagon.
But it is not just flexible assembly lines that Chrysler plans to implement in each of its plants. The company is investing in flexible robots -- one plant at a time -- that can perform numerous different tasks, such as applying adhesive or welding, simply by changing the tools on the robots arm.
By changing the tool at the end of the robot, we change the product that we are building, said Frank Ewasyshyn, Chryslers executive vice president of manufacturing, on Tuesday at the Management Briefing Seminars.
Chrysler will build on the successes it has had at the Windsor and Brampton, Ontario, plants, Ewasyshyn said. Windsor makes the companys minivans and Pacifica sport wagon. Brampton builds the Chrysler 300 sedan, Dodge Magnum wagon and Charger sports sedan.
Ewasyshyn said Chrysler will be able to build different vehicles on the same production line -- which Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. already do -- faster, for less money and in lower volumes than it does now.
The linchpin in the system are the dies Chrysler will use as well as the robots.
Because Chrysler was late in adopting robots for manufacturing, the robots in its plants are newer, more powerful and can be easily reprogrammed. They also can lift as much as 1,500 pounds, compared to about 275 pounds for 1990s era robots.
The good news for us is that by arriving late, we have been able to take advantage of more capable technology. We werent locked into previous generations of robots that were less capable, said Ewasyshyn.
Chrysler has reduced the cost of dies, which stamp the metal panels, by about 50 percent, Ewasyshyn said, by using more cast parts. He also said the cost has come down because dies are less expensive when the expected run of a vehicles is 60,000 or 70,000 instead of 300,000 units. He did not offer a dollar amount.
The lower cost of dies means that Chrysler can tool up for three vehicles for the same cost as it spent to tool up for one vehicle three years ago. Ewasyshyn also said model changes -- from one vehicle to another or from one model year to another -- can be completed in as few as 42 seconds.
Ewasyshyn also said that the cost of robots has come down, from about $80,000 each in the 1990s to around $30,000 today.
The next Chrysler plant to get flexible manufacturing will be in Belvidere, Ill. The change will come when the plant switches over from the Dodge Neon to producing the Dodge Caliber early next year.
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