Chrysler Plant Efficiency Benefits from Fiat Production Model

Even though Chrysler Group remodeled its production system after Fiat only one year ago, the change has already made a major difference in its plants’ efficiency.

Scott Garberding, Chrysler senior vice president of manufacturing, spoke about the improvements and the expectations the company has for the future. He reports that productivity in Chrysler’s assembly plants is expected to improve 10%, while the cost of operations is expected to decline 8%. The automaker also expects the number of injuries at the plants to drop 30% compared to the numbers for 2009.

Garberding also says that with the UAW’s cooperation in making changes, all plant workers have participated in the plan.

Fiat’s system is much like the Toyota Production System. Workers are grouped in teams and work to analyze the production processes in place and identify waste. Teams then quantify the waste associated with each problem, using “cost deployment,” which is a meticulous process to find the largest source of waste.

The teams can opt to abandon easier, faster solutions if they only generate a small savings. The cost data is often presented to plant managers to prove that more complex solutions can generate more savings for the facility. Ultimately the teams hunt down the root of the problem in order to find a permanent, workable solution.

One such case involved Chrysler’s Belvidere, Illinois plant. The facility had one stage on the assembly line that proved inefficient because line workers standing next to the vehicles had to reach inside blindly above the door opening along the ceiling of the vehicle to assemble components. To change the situation, the plant invented a “happy chair,” which is a seat that is suspended from an overhead rail that can be used by workers to slide in and out of the vehicles and actually see the place their hands had to reach. This fix resulted in fewer lost-time injuries and fewer mistakes in assembly.

Another example of the new plan in action is the method of lost-time injury reduction. To accomplish this, each production plant takes a look at the less serious safety issues, not just the larger problems or conditions that result in serious injury. Teams are able to study “near misses” that might have caused injury. The plan has reduced the number of injuries of all types and improved overall plant safety.

In 2009, Chrysler was able to lower the amount of work days lost to injuries by 35% compared with 2008. This followed reductions of 7% in 2008, 15% in 2007 and 17% in 2006, all compared to the previous years, says Garberding. He did not mention specific numbers of injuries for each year.

Each of the plants has about 30 employees working on fit-and-fitness issues, and each plant receives a visit from the circulating Fiat coaches (14 in all) each week. Garberding said the Fiat production system is not a “silver bullet,” and added that it requires “lots of rigor and logic.”

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