Let the countdown begin.
The first of some 11,000 pieces of steel was put into place Monday as construction of a technologically advanced paint shop at the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green began in earnest.
When all is said and done in early 2017 and the first car is expected to be painted in April that year, Corvette customers (perhaps mid-engine customers, too, we can hope) will begin seeing a much higher-quality paint job and an expanded color palette.
That first beam, which was 55 feet long and weighed three tons, is part of the northeast corner of the new paint shop, which will be 450,000 square feet – half the size of the current facility.
“It’s a landmark day to see this happen,” Plant Manager Kai Spande said.
According to Spande, the expansion “is for the customers,” noting that because the plant is painting carbon fiber and specialized plastics, all off of the body, special processes used only in Bowling Green will be implemented.
“From an operational standpoint, we will have more automation, but that will be balanced out with increased complexity,” Spande said, “so it doesn’t make our jobs easier, but it will make a better product for our customers.”
Chuck Valentini, body systems manager, said the new shop will be able “to do some colors that we can’t do today while also raising the quality level up,” thanks to additional spray capabilities, spray booths, and automation.
The expansion means that 12 colors will be offered instead of the current 10, along with some tri-coats that use a ground and a mid-coat application to produce white diamond colors for a more fluorescent depth to the finish.
“Because of the additional automation we’ll be able to offer the additional colors that our customers want that we are not able to give them today,” Valentini added.
The new plant will also be good for the environment as a state-of-the-art paint recovery operation will be built under the booth.
While base paint in the air currently gets trapped in water, then is filtered out to leave a sludge to dispose of, the new paint shop will have a dry scrub system using limestone to recover the paint, keeping it dry and creating a recyclable application that can be used to make concrete. “This represents a much better waste stream than what we currently have,” Valentini says.
Construction crews will put up an average of 50 pieces of steel each day to stay on schedule and should have the building enclosed by this May, allowing the new equipment to be installed in time for the first car to be painted in April 2017.
“You can bet that I’ll be here to see that first car coming off the line,” Site Project Manager Marc Roberts said.
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