Chrysler's Frank Ewasyshyn: "By changing the tool at the end of the robot, we change the product that we are building."
But it is not just flexible assembly lines that Chrysler plans to use in each of its plants. The company is investing in flexible robots - one plant at a time - that can perform numerous tasks, such as applying adhesive or welding, simply by changing the tools on the robot's arm.
"By changing the tool at the end of the robot, we change the product that we are building," Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler's executive vice president of manufacturing, said at last week's Management Briefing Seminars here.
Chrysler will build on the successes it has had at its plants in Windsor and Brampton, Ontario, Ewasyshyn said.
Windsor produces the company's minivans and the Chrysler Pacifica sport wagon.
Brampton builds the Chrysler 300 sedan, Dodge Magnum sport wagon and Dodge Charger sport 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 linchpins 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 reprogrammed easily. They also can lift as much as 1,500 pounds, compared with 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," Ewasyshyn said. "We weren't locked into previous generations of robots that were less capable."
Chrysler has reduced the cost of dies, which stamp the metal panels, by about 50 percent by using more cast parts, Ewasyshyn said.
The cost has dropped because dies are less expensive when the expected run of a vehicle is 60,000 or 70,000 units instead of 300,000, he said. Ewasyshyn 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 the model changes - from one vehicle to another or from one model year to another - can be done in as few as 42 seconds.
The cost of robots has decreased, from about $80,000 each in the 1990s to about $30,000 today, he said.
The Belvidere, Ill., plant will be the next Chrysler factory to get flexible manufacturing. The plant produces the Dodge Neon.
The change will come when the plant begins producing the Dodge Caliber small wagon early next year.
You may e-mail Richard Truett at [email protected]