STERLING HEIGHTS, MI – Predictably, employees of Chrysler’s assembly plant here are moved to cheers as CEO Sergio Marchionne and President Obama are mentioned during an event to mark the auto maker’s repayment of $6.7 billion in emergency government loans.

But World-Class Manufacturing, the process-control system Chrysler has borrowed from Italy-based alliance-partner Fiat?

Workers respond loudly and enthusiastically when UAW Vice President General Holiefield shouts into a microphone: “WCM is what made this possible!”

The system, which demands constant attention to 10 operational “pillars,” continues to gather momentum within Chrysler, which has been dogged in recent years by poor third-party quality ratings. WCM’s pillars are:

  • Safety.
  • Cost deployment.
  • Focused improvement.
  • Autonomous activities.
  • Professional maintenance.
  • Quality control.
  • ogistics.
  • Early-equipment management.
  • People development.
  • Environment.

The auto maker regards WCM as a weapon against process variation, the enemy of superior quality. Chrysler even has implemented WCM in its parts warehouses.

“We have different plants at different (progress) levels right now,” says Scott Garberding, senior vice president and head of manufacturing. “All the plants have moved very substantially.”

Asked to list the top performers, he tells Ward’s: “I’m not going to name names. We have about a half-dozen plants that have kind of set themselves apart.”

When pressed, Garberding says vehicle-assembly sites and powertrain plants account for most of them.

Progress monitoring is ongoing. Chrysler conducts audits with “checks and balances” to ensure accurate measurement, he adds.

“Internal” audits are conducted by senior plant managers from the Fiat plant network or the auto maker’s Fiat Group cousin, heavy-equipment maker Case New Holland. “External” audits are conducted by a professor from Japan’s University of Kyoto.

WCM replaced Smart Manufacturing, a process-control system implemented by Chrysler’s pre-Fiat management regimes.

“Smart was a good system, too,” says Steve Stevanoski, chassis business-unit manager at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, home to the Chrysler 200 and Dodge Avenger midsize cars.

“Smart manufacturing empowers people. (WCM) empowers people and takes it to next level.”

The required attention to detail accommodates Fiat’s demanding fit-and-finish standards, he adds.

Says Garberding: “The underlying idea behind WCM is to eliminate waste and loss. You can think of walk-time at a work station as a loss because I want to be adding value to the car, not walking to obtain a part and then walking back to install it.”

A key UAW official argues the notion WCM adds to a worker’s duties. “It changes the nature of the work,” says Bill Parker, president of UAW Local 1700, to which the 2,148 hourly employees at Sterling Heights belong.

Most significantly, it affords genuine exchange between labor and management when it comes to best practices.

“(WCM) provides a systematic method of making contributions,” he says. “There’s a lot of positive outcomes in terms of dealing with and correcting issues. There’s clearly been product-quality improvement.”

When does WCM implementation end? Never, Garberding says.

“Now that we’ve gotten a little smarter and our eyes have gotten better, there will always be something (to improve),” he says.