General Motors Co. has revamped its factory computers, wiring and automation worldwide to keep computer glitches from interrupting production.
By standardizing globally on a common plant-floor IT architecture, GM over five years has been able to reduce production stoppages caused by computer bugs by 95 percent, said Kirk Gutmann, GM's chief strategy and technology officer.
He said the reduction was in terms of lost minutes of production, but he did not provide specifics.
Gutmann, 52, was interviewed in May. He said this month that he is leaving GM on Tuesday, June 15. He declined to say why. A GM spokesman declined to comment.
Over the past five years, GM has worked with IT systems partner Cisco Systems Inc. to put all 186 plants worldwide on common IT processes and equip the plants in a standard format, Gutmann said.
GM's standardization of plant-floor IT started in North America and accelerated throughout Europe and Asia, he said. The plants are easy to trouble-shoot and maintain because they have a common architecture of hardware, software and wiring, Gutmann said.
The refit of plant IT was part of a broader effort by GM to standardize manufacturing processes worldwide to improve quality and hasten tooling changeovers for new models.
Just the avoidance of IT-caused production stoppages has saved GM about $75 million over the past five years, Gutmann said.
GM also avoided another $65 million for labor and engineering costs by not having to design multiple systems in various plants, Gutmann said.
Cisco and GM designed the IT architecture to isolate any plant outages that do arise, he said. That means production can continue even if one part of a plant goes down, Gutmann said.
Before the changes, the plants were susceptible to general shutdowns, he said. An outage at an Ohio assembly plant five years ago, for instance, caused the entire plant to lose four hours of production, Gutmann said.
He declined to say how much GM spent to revamp the IT at all its factories.
Nick Bell, GM process information officer, said factories are becoming increasingly complex and automated. A body shop that a decade ago had 200 computers, numeric machine controllers and hand-held devices today has close to 3,000 computerized devices, he said.
General assembly areas have seen a three- or four-fold increase in devices, to nearly 800 today, Bell said.
That makes standardization all the more important, said Dave Cronberger, a consulting solutions architect at Cisco in charge of the GM account.
With all GM plants using the same systems and processes, managers can call on colleagues for advice in the event of problems, he said.
Cronberger said Cisco designed the GM architecture so new computer and communications technologies can be added without having to make major changes to wiring, hardware and software.