Wrangler-flipper improves productivity at Jeep plant
Toledo — The rotisserie skillet at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV's Toledo North Assembly Plant isn't as appetizing as it sounds.
Moving platforms on an assembly line for the Jeep Wrangler JL are equipped with rotating "skillets" that flip partly built Jeeps 90 degrees onto their sides. That allows line workers to install components in the roof and underbody without raising their arms above their head or bending at the waist, movements that line operators say cause long-term repetitive stress injuries.
Other skillets in the industry often move up and down, but don't flip onto their sides like these. Fiat Chrysler says the technology isn't found anywhere else in the auto industry — one reason the automaker invited media to the Toledo plant Friday to tout its efficiencies and manufacturing processes in Jeep's historic hometown.
The Wrangler poses a particularly unique challenge for line operators at the roof and underbody installation stations, because the open roof and off-road capabilities under the car put components in harder-to-reach places. That spot on the assembly line was previously one of the least popular, said Tom Hall, a Toledo North worker who helped lead the assembly launch for the Wrangler JL.
"What would happen is ... the harder areas would be lower-seniority employees," he said. "Those would be the areas operators would want to (get out) of."
When the Wrangler JL moved to the Toledo North plant, operators shared these concerns with the automaker's manufacturing and engineering teams, and worked together to come up with the rotisserie skillet.
"Every time an operator has to do an irregular movement — bend, stretch, turn — that’s not value added to the vehicle," Hall said. "So what we tried to do is reduce the movement of the operator to be more efficient."
Using the rotating skillet for the roof and underbody systems for the Wrangler JL eliminated 500 possible risks — situations where the line operator is in an awkward, uncomfortable or potentially unsafe position — to which operators otherwise would have been exposed.
And making the line safer also makes business sense. Fiat Chrysler says workers on the part of the line that uses the rotating skillet are 59 percent more efficient.
The workers "definitely love it," Hall said. "Before, they were overhead-working all day long, head craned back. So this does make a difference."
Workers who interact with the rotisserie skillet now stand in one location, with the parts and tools directly in front of them. They ride the moving platforms about 20 feet down the line until they are done installing and then move back to the station where they started.
Making those comfort improvements can attract more skilled workers to that part of the line, said Kristin Dziczek, vice president of Ann Arbor-based Center for Automotive Research.
"If it's a job that no one wants to do — that's uncomfortable — you will get the least experienced people doing that job," she said. "Making it a better job can eliminate that, and it can make the line more accessible to different body types."