Chrysler increases Ram 1500 truck production

Michael Wayland
The Detroit News

Chrysler Group LLC has increased capacity at its Warren Truck Assembly Plant to meet growing demand for the Ram 1500.

The Auburn Hills-based automaker increased production by 100 vehicles a day, or more than 28,585 additional vehicles a year. Chrysler upped capacity by using new ideas and incremental investments to refine its production processes at more than 350 plant work stations — from automation changes in the body shop to improvements to its paint shop. The changes were implemented from the end of 2013 through the summer shutdown in August.

Chrysler attributes the new processes to hourly employees submitting thousands of suggestions as part of the automaker's "World Class Manufacturing" initiative that was introduced by Fiat when it took control of Chrysler in June 2009.

Through WCM, which aims to reduce waste and increase quality, efficiency and safety, the new processes streamline jobs by improving workplace ergonomics. One simple example was creating "kits" of related parts that allow operators to focus on assembly.

"There was a lot of work done here by the workforce," said Curt Towne, plant manager, during a media event Thursday morning to discuss changes to the plant. "This isn't something that was management-driven. This is something that was driven from the floor."

The Warren plant's nearly 3,600 hourly employees, including 1,100 hired in the past 18 months, work four 10-hour days on two shifts that run at least six days a week. Towne said small improvements such as not making an employee walk as far to get a part or color-coordinating engine part bins can have a significant impact.

The new operations, according to employees, were tested for roughly six months and implemented primarily during the plant's two-week shutdown last month. Allen Nichols, a plant launch team member, said the idea was to make sure everything worked before changing things.

"We tried to spearhead as many things as we could before that two-week process started," he said, adding the company will be able to use the improvements for future vehicles.

Towne said WCM has brought a "common language" to Chrysler's plants, where each plant operates similarly to adopt the best processes. He added the plant will continue to test new processes to increase production.

"There's a lot more capacity here," he said. "We're always looking for opportunities."

The 76-year-old plant has produced more than 228,000 vehicles through August. In 2013, the plant produced more than 291,500 trucks, up from 227,453 in 2012.

Ram Truck sales are up 21 percent through August compared to a year ago.

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