Special Coverage

Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Chrysler LLC has gotten a lot of publicity for trying outside-the-box manufacturing strategies, such as experimenting with modular assembly techniques and giving suppliers unprecedented responsibility at its Toledo, OH, Jeep plant.

However, Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president-manufacturing, says far more prosaic techniques such as easier-to-build vehicle designs and reducing unscheduled overtime have been driving the auto maker’s recent manufacturing success and will continue to do so in the future.

Even though Chrysler’s vehicle sales are faltering, its manufacturing operations have been logging some impressive gains.

Seven years ago, the Harbour Report ranked Chrysler dead last in productivity of all major North American auto makers. This year, it tied Toyota Motor Engineering & Mfg. North America Inc. for the No.1 spot, representing a 31.4% improvement in man-hours per vehicle, Ewasyshyn notes.

Four Chrysler assembly plants ranked in the Harbour Report’s top-10 most efficient plants, and the auto maker’s Global Engine Mfg. Alliance facility was the top-rated engine plant.

But during a panel discussion following his comments at the Management Briefing Seminars here, Ewasyshyn bristles at the idea much of Chrysler’s efficiency gains came from the use of more modularized components, a sensitive topic with the United Auto Workers union.

Ewasyshyn calls that idea “A myth that has been floating around.” The net improvement realized from the module-intensive production “is less than 1%,” he says.

He credits product-design changes, reduction of unscheduled overtime and other factors for cutting hours per vehicle. For instance, he says a more manufacturing-friendly design of the new minivan yielded a 30% improvement in hours per vehicle.

Meanwhile, Ewasyshyn says the auto maker plans to continue boosting productivity via increasingly flexible plants, smart manufacturing techniques, ergonomic workstations and better supply and logistics.

“We know we can’t excel in one area; we must excel in both productivity and quality,” he says.

“Flexibility is a key enabler of everything we do,” he adds, pointing out Chrysler’s Belvidere, IL, plant can build three body styles, as can its Brampton, ON, Canada, facility. The auto maker’s Windsor Assembly paint shop can accommodate dimensions of at least 11 different body styles.

On the agenda are more rolling launches of new products, installation of more flexible robotics systems and improvements in assembly-line ergonomics and supply and logistics.

Even so, Ewasyshyn says companies need a cooperative workforce to truly achieve flexibility, so the auto maker is working to develop a more team-based structure with more open-ended job classifications.