TOLEDO, Ohio -- In the Toledo North Assembly Plant's body shop, where the Jeep Liberty and Dodge Nitro are made, engineers developed a way to eliminate the sparks that fly from the welding robots.
And why is that a big deal?
Those sparks can land on clothing or even in workers' eyes. And when they cool, they leave a residue of slag on the machinery and factory floor. Scraping up that slag took workers 227 hours a month. Now it's virtually zero.
Chrysler eliminated the sparks by altering the body part fit, the welding gun and the welding process.
That's just one of the changes going on as Chrysler implements Fiat's World Class Manufacturing system in its 28 North American factories.
The program's goal is to eliminate waste -- in the broadest sense of the term.
Scott Garberding, Chrysler senior vice president of manufacturing, says the system defines waste as injuries, unnecessary worker movements, product defects and more. It emphasizes teams that include UAW members and "demands levels of rigor and logic that were not traditional for us at Chrysler," Garberding said in a speech this year.
Other elements of the system:
-- A focus on safety, including improved ergonomics.
-- An "excruciating process" of cost analysis that involves auditing every machine and work station for waste, then focusing on the biggest problems.
-- Improving maintenance of plant environment and facilities.
Chrysler wants to reduce injuries by 30 percent this year, cut operating costs 8 percent, and improve productivity and quality.
The company starts by attacking problem areas with the biggest potential for cost savings. When those are fixed, the system is applied elsewhere, says Mauro Pino, the WCM specialist Fiat brought in from Italy.
A big part of WCM: listening to worker suggestions, says Pino, manager of the Toledo Assembly Complex. "From 11,000 suggestions, we produced more than 40 projects that brought us big savings, to the tune of more than $300,000 since January," he says.
Some improvements have come from Chrysler's manufacturing engineers and not from line workers, says Dan Henneman, UAW Local 12 Jeep shop chairman in Toledo. And that's fine -- but:
"My biggest problem is that this is supposed to be about empowering employees," says Henneman, a 27-year Toledo veteran. "But a lot of the employee suggestions fall on deaf ears."
Henneman supports WCM, but says some workers remain wary.
"It's tough -- we've been through so many different owners," he says. "There have been many fancy names for job elimination.
"Of all the programs we've been through, this is the best ... because we're attacking the waste and ergonomics, not just making six guys do what seven guys did before."