Following the shutdowns that accompanied Chrysler’s restructuring bankruptcy, factory workers were greeted by large banners that read, “World Class Manufacturing. Welcome Back Chrysler Group, LLC Employees.”
Under new management by Italian automaker, Fiat, “World Class Manufacturing” is not just an inspirational slogan, it’s a detail focused production process that Chrysler’s new Italian management, Fiat SpA adheres to in order to improve efficiency and overall product quality. Now it is the law of the land throughout Chrysler’s U.S. production chain.
Since the transfer of power to Fiat’s chief executive, Sergio Marchionne, Fiat employees have been inspecting and assessing Chrysler’s production facilities and employees in an effort to identify and eliminate waste. According to Marchionne, “Waste is unethical.” Addressing an international manufacturing convention in Turin, Italy in 2007, Marchionne said that Fiat would distinguish itself through financial results and its commitment to a world class production system.
Chrysler’s factory employees are being reorganized into teams of 10 and each team member is being trained to perform every job assigned to the team. Fiat management is also reducing the number of supervisors and delegating more responsibility to team leaders.
These and other changes were agreed to by the United Auto Workers union and were among the concessions made by Chrysler in order to receive federal bailout loans. The UAW also agreed to a more stringent work attendance policy for their members.
Although Chrysler’s salaried and hourly factory workers are prohibited from talking to members of the press as a matter of company policy, some have breeched that agreement with the understanding that they will not be identified by name. Some are less than enthusiastic about the changes ushered in by Fiat.
A worker at one of Chrysler’s Canadian facilities said, “We were a little shocked by all the changes, including uniforms and only a water bottle allowed at your station.”
According to Chrysler, the company is considering requiring workers in its North American facilities to wear uniforms like their Fiat counterparts but insists that no final decision has been made. One determining factor will be the associated cost.
For the time being, Chrysler seems more concerned with improving efficiencies than enforcing dress codes.
More precision is being demanded in every aspect of the production process and if a problem is detected on a single vehicle, the problem must be corrected immediately. In some cases this can mean halting the entire assembly line until a minor defect on a single vehicle is fixed. Toyota employs a similar approach to quality control in its production facilities.
Fiat’s manufacturing process is built on 20 pillars of excellence that every Chrysler plant must now strive to achieve. Each of the 20 pillars encompasses up to seven separate steps and each pillar in the process is thoroughly audited for compliance. Items included in the audits range from workplace organization to workplace safety and a range of other components.
Achieving every pillar is a demanding process which can take years. Only two Fiat facilities have successfully completed the necessary steps to be awarded Fiat’s Bronze status and only one has achieved the Silver level.
Chrysler’s North American facilities are racing toward full implementation of the pillars but the processes vary from facility to facility. Workers at the automaker’s Toluca, Mexico plant are striving to meet the strict standards in preparation for the North American rollout of the Fiat500 in 2011.
Speaking on the condition of anonymity, one Chrysler factory worker in the U.S. said, “They say Fiat is our savior. Time will tell.”