Revving Up Production
The $1.5 billion, 3 million-square-foot vehicle manufacturing facility, which will ramp up full production next month, utilizes the latest in GM car-building processes and implements GM’s Global Manufacturing System (GMS). GMS is designed to allow employees to use their skills as efficiently as possible to build better vehicles within one of the world’s most efficient and technologically advanced auto plants.
GM is still the Lansing area’s largest private employer, despite closing Lansing Car Assembly and the Craft Center in the past two years. Just over 6,000 employees are spread across GM’s five facilities in the area. Lansing Delta Township will directly employ 3,300 once a third shift is added next spring. Hundreds of other local jobs have been created as outside parts suppliers have added local operations nearby.
The new assembly plant is expected to begin full production of the Saturn Outlook and GMC Acadia in November. It will begin producing a third mid-size crossover, the Buick Enclave, next spring.
All three vehicles should play key roles in GM’s sales turnaround. Automotive analysts say they expect sales in the more fuel-efficient mid-size crossover vehicle segment to be an area of growth in the auto industry, while sales of SUVs and big trucks remain stagnant.
“We are very fortunate to have been selected to build the Outlook, the Acadia and beginning next spring the Buick Enclave. GM is placing a lot of confidence and resources in the mid-size crossover segment,” said Randy Thayer, Lansing Delta Township plant manager. “I think this is about the best possible scenario for GM and for keeping jobs in mid-Michigan.”
Lansing Delta Township employees spent most of their summer doing test builds of the Outlook and Acadia. While full production levels remain a secret, Thayer said the plant will produce enough crossover vehicles to meet market demands. Crossover vehicles feature a SUV body on a car chassis, which results in more interior space and good towing capacity, but improved fuel mileage.
“The gas mileage will be better than the SUVs, which should be an important part of driving sales. All three of the vehicles we will produce here are predicted to average 17 miles per gallon city and 25 [miles per gallon] highway,” Thayer explained.
With the Lansing Delta Township facility, GM has taken great pains to build better vehicles and forge a stronger relationship with United Auto Workers Local 602 through its GMS program.
“GM is working with our union on every aspect of this project, from materials handling to designing some of the equipment in general assembly,” said Doug Rademacher, UAW Local president. “That is what is driving this whole thing. It’s a process where union and management work together to win. There’s a high level of communication.”
Thayer said of the new approach, “This is a consensus approach to doing things. It includes people systems, quality control, problem-solving methodology, and breaks down the stigma of shop employees and management working together.”
GMS includes team teaching and training with shop and management joining together to train in each of the major modules, Thayer said.
UAW 602, which represents hourly workers at Lansing Delta Township, worked hard to find jobs for all of the rank and file from the former Lansing Car Assembly.
“We ensured all of our membership at LCA a position at Delta. We also picked up some folks from UAW Local 652 and the former Craft Center,” Rademacher said.
GM’s special attrition program was announced in March just as Thayer and Rademacher thought they had most of the Lansing Delta Township line positions filled. About 700 employees from UAW Local 602 took advantage of the early retirement package.
“There are three pieces to a new plant start-up,” explained Thayer, “the plant, the product and the people. The people side was easy because we have lots of experienced car builders. These employees have won lots of awards. But it’s all new architecture in the plant, so the product is probably the hardest to get right since it’s all brand new.”
The level of automation at Lansing Delta Township is not that much greater than at the old Lansing Car Assembly, which was the longest operating automobile factory in the United States when it closed in early 2005.
More than 700 robots will handle welding in the body shop as each vehicle’s chassis receives 5,000 weld spots. Robotic applicators will handle all of the paint duties in the fully automated paint shop, while over 1,300 team members still handle most of the general assembly.
“The largest gains in automation in the auto manufacturing industry took place in the 1980s, so the amount of automation really hasn’t changed that much with this plant. However, it is much more sophisticated and reliable than it was. It’s much easier to implement and more cost effective,” said Thayer.
Lansing Delta Township has been honored as the world’s most environmentally friendly auto plant. The U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington, DC nonprofit group, has awarded the plant its gold certification. About 75 acres of land was set aside at the site as wildlife habitat.
“This is also GM’s most energy efficient plant. In areas where robots do the work lights will be kept off. We even collect rain water in large cisterns to flush toilets with,” Thayer said.
Sales of the mid-size crossover hybrid vehicles once they hit showroom floors this fall will determine if more jobs could eventually be added at Lansing Delta Township, analysts say.
“We know it’s important that we are successful for the future of GM and mid-Michigan workers. Our goal is for new workers from the area to have an opportunity to earn a good living and work for GM. My hope is that the next generation of auto workers will look to stay here and work at Delta,” said Rademacher.
Thayer, who attended Lansing’s Everett High School and graduated from Leslie High School, has high hopes for GM and the Lansing Delta Township plant.
“We want to be the model of how employee involvement should work, and how the benefits of employee involvement pay off through a safer environment and quality products,” he said.
Lansing Delta Township Assembly
Randy Thayer, Plant Manager
Geoff Weller, Asst. Plant Manager
Doug Rademacher, President, UAW Local 602
Steve Bramos, Chairman, UAW Local 602
8175 Millett Highway, Lansing