Ignition

FCA WINDSOR ASSEMBLY

PLANT TOUR Story and Photograph­y by Lee Bailie

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I love touring automotive assembly plants.

It doesn't matter what's being built – sports cars, SUVS, trucks or minivans, as is the case here – I generally love being awed by the sheer size and scope of modern car-making. It is mass-manufactur­ing in its most hectic, but also in its most brilliantl­y engineered and beautifull­y rhythmic state.

Whether production is high-volume or low, the amount of coordinati­on, teamwork and skill needed to operate a modern auto assembly facility efficientl­y and safely is staggering. Many of the facilities I've been fortunate enough to visit in recent years are mammoth physical sites that require thousands of workers to operate with lines that run the length of several football fields when stretched end to end.

One manufactur­er that has been quite hospitable when it comes to opening the doors of its plants to curious outsiders is Fiat Chrysler Automobile­s (FCA). Since 2014, I've visited four FCA plants – two in Michigan, two in Ontario – and have witnessed the assembly of many of its best-known nameplates, from the Ram 1500 pick-up and Dodge Viper to the Dodge Charger / Challenger, Chrysler 300 and, most recently, the Chrysler Pacifica, Pacifica Hybrid and Dodge Grand Caravan.

The Pacifica and Grand Caravan are built at FCA'S Windsor Assembly, a plant that opened in 1928 and has served as the home of the company's ubiquitous minivans since they debuted in 1983. Of the more than 14 4 million minivans the company has produced d over the past 34 years, more than 10 million have been built at Windsor Assembly, marking an extraordin­ary run of continuous production.

The start of production for the current generation Pacifica began in February 2016 (2017 model year) following a re-tooling of the plant that took place over several months from late 2014 to May 2015. The main goal of the project was to integrate production of the Pacifica and the Grand Caravan on to the same line despite not the fact that the two are based on different platforms and don't share any parts. Plus, the plant also had to accommodat­e the arrival of the Pacifica Hybrid, which requires unique assembly stations along the line. Its production began in December 2016.

During my visit, the plant hummed along with impressive efficiency, as Pacificas, Pacifica Hybrids and Grand Caravans snaked along the line in various stages of assembly. I was struck, as I so often am when I visit these places, by not only the complexity of the assembly process, but also the various innovative ways each task has been refined to serve the high standards the company has set for efficiency, quality, safety and velocity – all at the same time. Watching line operators carry out their tasks with such skill and efficiency is really a sight to behold.

And much like the vehicles they build, they just keep on rolling.

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