TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Chrysler says it has integrated innovative, 3-dimensional software into one of its transmission plants that increases efficiency, reduces fixes and prevents injury to its workers.

The technology has been incorporated into the auto maker’s Kokomo, IN, factory, where Chrysler produces 6-, 8- and 9-speed automatics. It will be used primarily in the production of 8-speed units, which begins in the fourth quarter, and 9-speed production, launching in first-quarter 2013.

The software replaces old computer-aided-design technology and is employed across departmental lines, from top management down to the assembly-line floor. All of Chrysler’s transmission operations in Kokomo – boosted by a recent $1.3 billion upgrade – have been replicated in virtual form, including machinery, and thousands of square feet of space have been updated to make that process smoother.

Chrysler is using the 3D technology to detect problems before they occur. Human movement is mimicked in the program, which means the software can identify repetitive actions that could lead to injury. Engineers can change workflow to minimize those movements if needed.

The software also can predict lag times in production and identify bottlenecks. Machine information from outside suppliers is plugged into the software, and Chrysler says when it is ready to increase output, it easily will be able to identify outdated machinery and determine where to focus additional resources.

Chrysler inputs data from all outsourced parts for the powertrains, a key initiative as it builds on its relationship with ZF Friedrichshafen, the patent-holder of its upcoming 9-speed transmission.

Team leaders in Kokomo have been training on the software since the beginning of the year in preparation for increased transmission production. Brian Harlow, vice president-NAFTA powertrain operations, says the technology will be rolled out slowly to most of Chrysler’s powertrain sites.

The technology is unique in the industry, he says.

“We have to launch these products fast, and it was clear we had to do some extraordinary things to get there,” Harlow tells reporters here today at the Center for Automotive Research’s Management Briefing Seminars.

The software was developed by Strategic Manufacturing Partners, a Sterling Heights, MI-based firm owned by long time powertrain veteran Paul Leskiw, who retired from General Motors after 30 years with the company. Harlow says other OEMs, declining to name which ones, approached Leskiw about the technology, but the best fit was with Chrysler.

Harlow declines to put a dollar amount on the partnership with Leskiw’s company, but does say data collected from the 3D technology in the plants is processed through SMP. There has been talk of Chrysler developing its own data-entry team, he says.

Factory workers in Kokomo tell WardsAuto they have responded well to the new technology because it allows them to give their own input on production. Employees have been trained in using whiteboards to mark where issues, whether ergonomic, strategic or pinpointing other inefficiencies, can be rectified. Those suggestions are reviewed by top management to determine the best solution.

Harlow says the auto maker already has used the technology to minimize risk of injury at nine locations along the Kokomo production line.

The software is being rolled out at Chrysler’s Detroit, Dundee and Trenton, MI, engine plants. Aging powertrain components, such as the 6-speed built in Kokomo, are not likely to be built with the technology.

afoley@wardsauto.com