As I am sure most of our readers are by now aware, the Bowling Green Assembly Plant is set to undergo some big changes over the coming months. Not only is the new $400+ million paint facility coming online, but there are multiple investments being made to the general assembly process. To make those changes and upgrades, General Motors will be closing the assembly plant at the end of July and it will stay closed for three months as the plant undergoes these upgrades.
As the plant manager, nobody is better than Kai Spande at explaining what the changes are and why they are needed. He addressed Corvette enthusiasts during the NCM Bash and gave a great overview of the changes as well as showing a clip of robots painting new panels for the Corvette.
From the seminar, we learned that the new paint facility is on the other side of the factory than the previous paint shop. So moving the panel assembly areas closer to the new paint shop means that there is less opportunity for those newly painted parts to get dinged or damaged as the car moves through the assembly process. Second is the fact that they want to change the current assembly layout so those painted panels are among the last steps of the assembly process, again to mitigate the potential for damage as the car is being assembled.
Finally, the general assembly process will be transformed by utilizing flexible assembly methods that feature robotic delivery of parts and components to the stations as well as allowing the worker greater access to the vehicle and its sub-systems during assembly. An example is the engine dress line that will allow workers to easily rotate the engines to make it as easy and as accessible as possible for the worker to do their jobs.
Another significant move is the time for each worker to install the parts. Currently, the assembly line moves at a rate of 17 cars completed per hour. This will be decreased to 12 cars per hour as the workers will get an additional two minutes per car (from three minutes to five minutes) at each of their stations. Not only does this allow the worker more time to do their jobs, but it should also increase quality as they will have more time to inspect and review the cars as they go down the line. The rate of 12 cars per hour is not something that can be changed. Kai says if you want to build more cars, then you need more hours to do so, not a faster running line.
Kai makes a point showing how the current line features a lot of steel scaffolding and an inflexible line that carries parts through the factory. Another key stat is that currently 80% of the parts are delivered via forklifts. Following the upgrades much of the scaffolding and delivery of parts will be replaced with a new system of automated guided carriers which are essentially robots that follow a predetermined path to deliver the completed sub-assemblies or the other parts needed for building the cars.
Kai spent a significant amount of time talking about the Corvette painting process and the new paint show. The paint shop will start up first with Arctic White and Corvette Racing Yellow as the first two colors that will be moved to the new paint shop. Both paint shops will be operating in tandem once 2018 production starts back up in November and it will be like that until all ten colors are migrated over to the new paint shop. Regarding the time frame, Kai says the old paint shop will remain in operation until mid to late 2018.
With all the changes being made, Kai confirms that the plant tours will be closed for an extended period of time. We later learned that tours may not be back until early 2019.
This is all great news for Corvette owners. The paint shop was specifically designed for the unique composite panels that are featured on the Corvette and the implementation of changing the assembly time along with the process will only benefit the quality of the finished product.
The move to a flexible manufacturing process means just that. Flexible. When you apply that process to automotive manufacturing, it can basically be summed up as the ability to produce multiple configurations or even different vehicles on the same line.
So imagine a worker in charge of attaching a rear fascia to the back of a Corvette. With the ability to deliver whatever parts are needed for that install, it doesn’t matter whether that car on the line is a Stingray or a Z06 or even a C8 mid-engine Corvette. As long as the assembly worker has the correct parts and tools needed, they can assemble that car on the line.
These are exciting times for Corvette enthusiasts!