Moraine, OH -- The critics were right. Thousands of problems did descend onCorp.'s refurbished assembly plant here, but they're starlings, not the gremlins some predicted.
The birds invaded without warning late last winter, and refused to leave. They filled the trees in front of the plant every evening, and their droppings made a terrible mess on the sidewalks below.
Plant Manager Robert W. Roth tried everything to get rid of the pesky critters, from shining spotlights on the trees at night to hanging fake owls in the branches. Finally a professional consultant suggested giving the birds specially treated birdseed cause them to get confused and forget where to roost. Problem was, plant employees thought management was deliberately feeding the birds. That meant Mr. Roth had to get up in front of his people and explain that well they were feeding the birds special birdseed that would make them go away He admits he did not receive an ing of confidence in his leadership skills during that speech.
Fortunately things are going better inside the plant.
That's a bit of a surprise. Three years ago industry scuttlebutt was predicting disaster for Moraine especially the paint plant. The now infamous purchasing chief J. Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua involved himself personally in negotiations for the brand-new facility and reportedly alienated numerous key suppliers by bludgeoning them with price-cut demands. Several suppliers reportedly walked away from the giant project disgusted with Mr. Lopez's tactics.
After hearing some of these reports, you'd expect to see a paint plant thrown together with paper clips and clothes pins by a bunch of disgruntled suppliers. Instead, it's claimed to be producing one of the toughest, most environmentally friendly paint jobs in the world - and key suppliers such as DuPont Automotive (paint) and Durr Industries (paint shop general contractor) are given lots of credit for making it happen.
With a pricetag of $155 million, the paint plant was built on a shoestring. Other facilities capable of cranking out over 330,000 units a year have cost twice that. Moraine officials admit comers were cut wherever possible. Yet it's all working well, so far, and the end result is little short of spectacular. Some of the new colors and special effects coming out of that paint plant will knock your eyes out. The purple - I mean Radar Blue - changes to bright blue along contour lines and when viewed from different angles. That type of color shift - or "flop" as it's known in the business - was possible only with special show-car finishes a few years ago.
But plant and supplier officials like to brag that the finish is as tough and environmentally clean as it is good looking. The full-body powder primer provides better chip resistance than conventional primers, and the clearcoat layer offers superior resistance to environmental fallout such as acid rain. The one-component etch-resistant clearcoat also eliminates the mixing and metering equipment required for conventional environmental resistant clearcoats, DuPont is quick to point out.
Powder coatings aren't mixed with liquid solvents that turn into hazardous vapors during the paint spraying process. Instead, they are sprayed on dry and melt to a smooth finish in the paint bake oven. Even the waste material is clean. It's collected at the bottom of the booth and immediately reused. Typical solvent-based paint overspray collects in the bottom of spray booths and turns into toxic waste called paint sludge.
Unfortunately it's impossible to do fancy colors with powder paints, so automakers are switching to the next best thing: water-based paints. Although waterborne paints still contain some solvents, it's far less than traditional automotive paint, and they actually look better; hence the dynamite colors coming out of Moraine.
That's not to say there haven't been any problems. A minor glitch in the electrodeposition process last year made GM so paranoid it quarantined several thousand vehicles and only offered them to GM employees on short-term leases because of fears the paint would peel. However, a GM spokesman says it was purely a precautionary measure, the problem was quickly isolated, and no peeling problems have been reported.
And what about those starlings? Mr. Roth says they're gone, although he's not sure what finally got rid of them. He's just glad he doesn't have to give any more speeches about magic birdseed. If only the rest of GM's problems could fly away so easily.