When GM/Cadillac's Hamtramck Assembly Center opened in 1985, equipped with the latest in advanced manufacturing technology, GM envisioned competitive victory.
But reality was somewhat different. In her book Rude Awakening, automotive analyst Maryann Keller told what she saw: robots designed to spray-paint cars instead painting each other; factory lines halted for hours while technicians scrambled to debug software; computer systems sending erroneous instructions, leading to body parts being installed on the wrong cars.
Simply removing all the unproved and misapplied technology improved production and efficiency, remembers plant manager Larry Tibbitts. But the key ingredient to Hamtramck's progress, Tibbitts says, is employee involvement.
For example, the plant's employees achieved a 73 percent reduction in discrepancies per vehicle between 1986 and 1991, the year Hamtramck won its Best Plants award. They also recorded a 65 percent improvement in productivity for the same period in all measures of quality and customer satisfaction.
The assembly-line effectiveness center (ALEC), established in 1989 in a 20,000-square-foot section of the plant, gives workers a chance to evaluate new designs and make suggestions early on. "When the assemblers first looked at the new Seville and Eldorado," says manufacturing manager Roy Roberts, "almost 300 modifications were made. These were focused on quality, productivity, and cost advantages for the product and the people."
Cadillac's design-for-manufacturability (DFM) program has also led to major improvements. The bumpers of the Seville and Eldorado are a good example. Nuts and bolts were replaced with snap-in fasteners. Where the 1990 Seville required 217 fasteners in the bumper system, the 1992 model required only 34.