Amid speculation on the Web that the General Motors Bowling Green Assembly Plant is getting ready for a new generation that could include hybrid or mid-engine Corvettes, most workers at the Kentucky plant will take off beginning July 28 and won’t be returning to work until October.
That was the word from Plant Manager Kai Spande, who talked last Thursday about the upcoming 13-week shutdown during the awarding of the plant’s grants to local non-profit organizations.
Fortunately, the plant has already assembled some 2018 Corvettes in the past few weeks for delivery during the shutdown, but production and delivery of what will be the fifth year of the C7 models won’t resume again until November.
Spande said the shutdown will allow installation of equipment, setting up a new car build process for the 2018 Corvette, and getting the nearly $500 million new paint shop up and running.
Meanwhile, a United Auto Workers Local 2164 leader said some areas of the plant will still be on the job during the shutdown, “mostly painters.”
Vice President Jack Bowers told a reporter for The Bowling Green Daily News that all of the 838 permanent employees should be back at work in October, but the several hundred temporary workers who also help produce the Corvette won’t return immediately.
“It will be a slow, steady process when you do this level of restructuring in the plant,” Bowers said. “We’re basically rearranging things so that parts coming from the paint area are coming from a different area, and we’ll be using a conveyor system to bring all parts over to be assembled. It will take at least a month to get things rolling.”
In an earlier story, we told you 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. At the NCM Bash in April, Kai said if you want to build more cars, then you need more hours to do so, not a faster running line.
At the Bash, he showed 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.
Of course, with the plant closed for the renovations, the factory tours are shut down, and we’ve been told they may not resume until early 2019 – a move that has caused speculation that GM doesn’t want prying eyes seeing any eighth generation models widely rumored to be the long-awaited mid-engine Holy Grail.
[VIDEO] Corvette Assembly Plant Update with Kai Spande from the 2017 NCM Bash
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