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Published: July 12, 2006
Business: Manufacturing
Third shift starts early at Chrysler

By Alex Gary
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR

BELVIDERE — About 1,000 people will begin their jobs at DaimlerChrysler’s Belvidere assembly plant a week earlier than previously announced.

The third-shift at the 3.9-million-square-foot plant will begin at 11 p.m. Sunday. Earlier start dates centered around the last week in July.
The new workers will bring employment at the plant to about 3,600.

This is the first time in its 41-year history the plant will run 24 hours a day.

Workers are making the Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Compass. Production of a third model, the Jeep Patriot, is scheduled to begin later this third quarter.

The plant was down to 1,650 workers on one shift when the Caliber went into retail production in January. In March, DaimlerChrysler reestablished a second shift and boosted the payroll to 2,650.
 

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Re: 3rd Shift Starts EARLY for Caliber...

Published: July 13, 2006

Business: Manufacturing
Robots meant to increase efficiency slow production

By Alex Gary
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR

BELVIDERE — Last winter, contractors installed more than 700 robots in the DaimlerChrysler assembly plant’s body shop as part of a $419 million investment to make the plant the most flexible and automated of the company’s 14 North American factories.

The Swedish-made ro-bots were intended to make the place more efficient. Instead, it turns out they are the main reason the Belvidere operation has fallen behind on production of the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, according to the person in charge of manufacturing for the Chrysler Group.

The fact the plant isn’t meeting production targets came to light July 3 when DaimlerChrysler officials announced sales of the Caliber dropped 2.6 percent from May to June. The sales dip was not because the car isn’t popular; it may be the most sought-after domestic new car in the past three years. It was because workers at the plant aren’t turning out enough of them.

Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president of manufacturing, said in a telephone interview from Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., that software issues are causing frequent shutdowns in the body shop, some for just a few minutes but many for 45 minutes or more.

“This is the most ambitious product launch we’ve ever had,” Ewasyshyn said. “We’re doing way more than we’ve ever done, and it isn’t like ‘Geez, we didn’t think things would go wrong.’ ”

While Ewasyshyn said the company expected some rough going, an executive at Troy, Mich.-based Harbor Consulting, said her sources in the industry are saying the problems are worse than the company anticipated.

“They are having to burn considerable overtime to try to meet the production targets,” said Michelle Hill, director of benchmarking in North America for Harbor. The company produces the annual and influential Harbor Report, which tracks which plants are most efficient at producing vehicles. The Belvidere operation has long been a star for Chrysler in the Harbor publication, annually ranking as the company’s most efficient.

Hill said that’s unlikely to be the case when the next report comes out in 2007.

“From what I’m hearing, it’s not people issues, it is the body shop,” Hill said. “The company apparently wasn’t nearly as ready to launch when it did. They need to get this fixed. Chrysler has shifted a lot of investment into Belvidere.”

Officials at the three Dodge dealerships in Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties — Anderson Dodge in Rockford, Brian Bemis Auto Mall in Oregon and Belvidere Motors in Belvidere — have heard that the plant is running anywhere from a 70,000 to a 130,000 Caliber backlog.
What’s going wrong
The automated body shop in Belvidere was set up to handle as many as four different models. As parts pass through, each robot does its specific task and then passes the part on to the next robot. When working correctly, it’s a symphony of manufacturing perfection. The company proudly featured the body shop, its robots silently turning, soldering, sparks flying, during a media day in February.

The problems stem from the computer programs that coordinate the robots. Ewasyshyn said the multiple configurations of the Compass and Caliber are causing “interface issues.”

He said every robot has an “interference zone” and if a part breaches it, the system automatically shuts down. He said if a part just passes through the interference zone without touching, workers simply restart the system. If the parts touch, however, then technicians have to program the system so that it doesn’t happen again the next time the body shop encounters the same parts configuration.

“If the parts touch, getting everything ready to go again takes a half-hour to 45 minutes,” Ewasyshyn said. “Just with the Caliber and the Compass, we have eight different variants when you factor in the European versions with the different steering wheel sides and the diesel versions. We have 700 robots and a lot of different permutations to work through.”

The multiple configurations, won’t go away soon, and in fact will get more complicated. The Jeep Patriot is scheduled to go into production in the third quarter of the year as well as the Caliber SRT4, a 300-horsepower version targeting the muscle-car market.

“Each one is going to add a whole new set of twists, and we’ll have to get them sorted out,” Ewasyshyn said.

In terms of quality, Ewasyshyn said the Caliber launch is “the best in the company’s history in that respect.”

Indeed, dealers have reported few buyer complaints on the Caliber, six months into its life. The Dodge and Plymouth Neon, which the Caliber and Compass replaced, had two major recalls by this time in their first year more than a decade ago.
Third shift starts Sunday
Overall, the DaimlerChrysler plant has been a steady source of good news since company officials announced in January 2005 they were going to renovate the plant and give workers a bevy of new models to produce. The Caliber, an aggressive-looking cross between an SUV and a sporty coupe, has been very well received. In June, its fifth month of availability, Calibers were spending an average of just 11 days on car lots nationwide, the same time it was taking to sell them in March. That’s virtually unheard of in the industry. Typically, in each successive month cars spend more time on lots before selling because production is increasing and the wow factor is wearing off.

Those statistics caused Tom Libby of the Power Information Network, a J.D. Power and Associates company, to call the Caliber the strongest domestic car launch in the past 37 months.

Workers began making retail versions of the Jeep Compass May 30, and the more suburban-friendly Jeep began showing up on dealer lots in late June. Initially thought to be somewhat of a risk, early reviews of the Compass have been positive.

The plant was down to 1,650 workers on one shift when the Caliber went into retail production in January. In March, DaimlerChrysler reestablished a second shift and boosted the payroll to 2,650. A third shift with 1,000 more workers kicks off Sunday night at 11 p.m., about a week earlier than expected. When workers report, it will mark the first time in the plant’s 41-year history that it will be operating 24 hours a day.

Workers were talking about robot issues in May, when the company announced it would start the third shift. LaToya McClain, a seven-year DaimlerChrysler employee who lives in Rockford, said reaction in the plant over the third shift was mixed. She said workers were happy the Caliber was doing so well but concerned that first-shift workers were continually being sent home early because of problems with the body shop.

“How can we have a third shift when the robots aren’t staying together long enough for two shifts?” McClain asked in May.
Lesson learned?
Hill of Harbor Consulting said she hopes DaimlerChrysler officials are focusing on fixing the computer issues and not banking on the third shift to take care of the production issues.

“That’d be a very expensive fix,” she said.

Hill said DaimlerChrysler was too ambitious in its makeover of Belvidere.

“A new body shop, a new car, a new engine, sequencing parts for the first time,” Hill said. “Toyota wouldn’t operate this way. Toyota would put in the body shop and run it for a year, then they’d put in a new car and run it for a year, then they’d put in a new engine. They’d work out all of the problems before moving on to the next system.

“When working on future launches, Chrysler needs to take a long look at what’s happening in Belvidere,” she said.
 

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Re: 3rd Shift Starts EARLY for Caliber...

WOW, at least they are finally letting everyone know whats going on. If the backlog is really 130,000 and they can only pump out 12,000 in a month, thats over 10 months wait for some people. Thats insane.
 

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Re: 3rd Shift Starts EARLY for Caliber...

Makes me glad that I decided to take what I could get instead of special ordering mine. It is sad though to see them having problems that could have been avoided with a little more thought. Hopefully though the Caliber continues to do well. We don't need to add Chrysler to the problem category that GM and Ford are staying in.
 

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Re: 3rd Shift Starts EARLY for Caliber...

Tigerr said:
WOW, at least they are finally letting everyone know whats going on. If the backlog is really 130,000 and they can only pump out 12,000 in a month, thats over 10 months wait for some people. Thats insane.
Insane is right. Yes, I know this is a hot selling car, but this is no Rolls Royce or Harley Davidson, which I believe are hand crafted and have a normal waiting list for them! For what their asking in price for these cars is outstanding and appeals to many people, but having 10 month wait WILL deter people to buy other fair price economical cars. I tell you this, if I hadn't bought accessories for my Caliber already, I would have canceled my order by now. I orderd my car 5/1 and is in BX status at the moment. I wanted a new car to enjoy the summer with, and here it is summer is already half over. I can't imagine how many sales are being lost due to these production issues!
 

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Re: 3rd Shift Starts EARLY for Caliber...

mahal3680 said:
I wanted a new car to enjoy the summer with, and here it is summer is already half over.
I know what you mean. When I was told 6 weeks on May 11, that was reasonable. Getting my car at the end of June was fine. But now its 9 weeks, and it feels like my car has not moved. When I last spoke with my dealer last week, he told me that he called DCX and they told him that the 7 Calibers he has on order should have a build date by the end of the month. So now I'm looking at 12 weeks, and thats just to get a build date. That date could be the end of August, with another 2 weeks once they start building it. This wait is horrible. And my dealler wont budge with giving me freebies for the wait.
 

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Re: 3rd Shift Starts EARLY for Caliber...

Well sounds like exactly what I have been saying, they never should of added another model until they get the Caliber going well, trying to do much, too soon, too fast.
 

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Blame the robots!!!

Robots meant to increase efficiency slow production

By Alex Gary
ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR



OAS_AD('300x250_1'); BELVIDERE — Last winter, contractors installed more than 700 robots in the DaimlerChrysler assembly plant’s body shop as part of a $419 million investment to make the plant the most flexible and automated of the company’s 14 North American factories.


The Swedish-made ro-bots were intended to make the place more efficient. Instead, it turns out they are the main reason the Belvidere operation has fallen behind on production of the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, according to the person in charge of manufacturing for the Chrysler Group.

The fact the plant isn’t meeting production targets came to light July 3 when DaimlerChrysler officials announced sales of the Caliber dropped 2.6 percent from May to June. The sales dip was not because the car isn’t popular; it may be the most sought-after domestic new car in the past three years. It was because workers at the plant aren’t turning out enough of them.

Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president of manufacturing, said in a telephone interview from Chrysler headquarters in Auburn Hills, Mich., that software issues are causing frequent shutdowns in the body shop, some for just a few minutes but many for 45 minutes or more.


“This is the most ambitious product launch we’ve ever had,” Ewasyshyn said. “We’re doing way more than we’ve ever done, and it isn’t like ‘Geez, we didn’t think things would go wrong.’ ”


While Ewasyshyn said the company expected some rough going, an executive at Troy, Mich.-based Harbor Consulting, said her sources in the industry are saying the problems are worse than the company anticipated.


“They are having to burn considerable overtime to try to meet the production targets,” said Michelle Hill, director of benchmarking in North America for Harbor. The company produces the annual and influential Harbor Report, which tracks which plants are most efficient at producing vehicles. The Belvidere operation has long been a star for Chrysler in the Harbor publication, annually ranking as the company’s most efficient.


Hill said that’s unlikely to be the case when the next report comes out in 2007.


“From what I’m hearing, it’s not people issues, it is the body shop,” Hill said. “The company apparently wasn’t nearly as ready to launch when it did. They need to get this fixed. Chrysler has shifted a lot of investment into Belvidere.”

Officials at the three Dodge dealerships in Winnebago, Boone and Ogle counties — Anderson Dodge in Rockford, Brian Bemis Auto Mall in Oregon and Belvidere Motors in Belvidere — have heard that the plant is running anywhere from a 70,000 to a 130,000 Caliber backlog.

What’s going wrong

The automated body shop in Belvidere was set up to handle as many as four different models. As parts pass through, each robot does its specific task and then passes the part on to the next robot. When working correctly, it’s a symphony of manufacturing perfection. The company proudly featured the body shop, its robots silently turning, soldering, sparks flying, during a media day in February.


The problems stem from the computer programs that coordinate the robots. Ewasyshyn said the multiple configurations of the Compass and Caliber are causing “interface issues.”


He said every robot has an “interference zone” and if a part breaches it, the system automatically shuts down. He said if a part just passes through the interference zone without touching, workers simply restart the system. If the parts touch, however, then technicians have to program the system so that it doesn’t happen again the next time the body shop encounters the same parts configuration.


“If the parts touch, getting everything ready to go again takes a half-hour to 45 minutes,” Ewasyshyn said. “Just with the Caliber and the Compass, we have eight different variants when you factor in the European versions with the different steering wheel sides and the diesel versions. We have 700 robots and a lot of different permutations to work through.”


The multiple configurations, won’t go away soon, and in fact will get more complicated. The Jeep Patriot is scheduled to go into production in the third quarter of the year as well as the Caliber SRT4, a 300-horsepower version targeting the muscle-car market.


“Each one is going to add a whole new set of twists, and we’ll have to get them sorted out,” Ewasyshyn said.


In terms of quality, Ewasyshyn said the Caliber launch is “the best in the company’s history in that respect.”


Indeed, dealers have reported few buyer complaints on the Caliber, six months into its life. The Dodge and Plymouth Neon, which the Caliber and Compass replaced, had two major recalls by this time in their first year more than a decade ago.

Third shift starts Sunday

Overall, the DaimlerChrysler plant has been a steady source of good news since company officials announced in January 2005 they were going to renovate the plant and give workers a bevy of new models to produce. The Caliber, an aggressive-looking cross between an SUV and a sporty coupe, has been very well received. In June, its fifth month of availability, Calibers were spending an average of just 11 days on car lots nationwide, the same time it was taking to sell them in March. That’s virtually unheard of in the industry. Typically, in each successive month cars spend more time on lots before selling because production is increasing and the wow factor is wearing off.

Those statistics caused Tom Libby of the Power Information Network, a J.D. Power and Associates company, to call the Caliber the strongest domestic car launch in the past 37 months.


Workers began making retail versions of the Jeep Compass May 30, and the more suburban-friendly Jeep began showing up on dealer lots in late June. Initially thought to be somewhat of a risk, early reviews of the Compass have been positive.


The plant was down to 1,650 workers on one shift when the Caliber went into retail production in January. In March, DaimlerChrysler reestablished a second shift and boosted the payroll to 2,650. A third shift with 1,000 more workers kicks off Sunday night at 11 p.m., about a week earlier than expected. When workers report, it will mark the first time in the plant’s 41-year history that it will be operating 24 hours a day.


Workers were talking about robot issues in May, when the company announced it would start the third shift. LaToya McClain, a seven-year DaimlerChrysler employee who lives in Rockford, said reaction in the plant over the third shift was mixed. She said workers were happy the Caliber was doing so well but concerned that first-shift workers were continually being sent home early because of problems with the body shop.


“How can we have a third shift when the robots aren’t staying together long enough for two shifts?” McClain asked in May.

Lesson learned?

Hill of Harbor Consulting said she hopes DaimlerChrysler officials are focusing on fixing the computer issues and not banking on the third shift to take care of the production issues.


“That’d be a very expensive fix,” she said.


Hill said DaimlerChrysler was too ambitious in its makeover of Belvidere.

“A new body shop, a new car, a new engine, sequencing parts for the first time,” Hill said. “Toyota wouldn’t operate this way. Toyota would put in the body shop and run it for a year, then they’d put in a new car and run it for a year, then they’d put in a new engine. They’d work out all of the problems before moving on to the next system.


“When working on future launches, Chrysler needs to take a long look at what’s happening in Belvidere,” she said.


Assistant Business Editor Alex Gary may be reached at 815-987-1339 or [email protected]
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

meek84 said:
The Swedish-made ro-bots were intended to make the place more efficient. Instead, it turns out they are the main reason the Belvidere operation has fallen behind on production of the Dodge Caliber and Jeep Compass, according to the person in charge of manufacturing for the Chrysler Group.
It's a about time to get the blame to the right place = the sweds. You gave the project to the sweds and this the results. If only you gave the chance to the finnish experts (for example guys in Nokia) we would have some working robots :D
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

Hahahaha, you are probably right, go next door and kick some Sweds for all the waiting Caliber owners. But I blame the Germans, they run Chrysler. :D
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

As I posted in another forum on the same topic:

Sounds to me like Chrysler needs to get their head out of their ass. The Caliber is one of the best selling vehicles they've ever had and they're screwing it all up for everyone. A lot of people buying these are first time Chrysler product buyers and if its going to take 16-20 weeks to get a Caliber out the door, then people will just say piss on it and go elsewhere, and probably never buy a Chrysler product again. If I was them...I wouldn't worry about the stupid Jeep Compass right now, and especially the Jeep Patriot and SRT-4 version. I would focus all of my efforts on the car thats selling and get those robots working!!!! Its really f'in ridiculous if you ask me. Dodge is losing a lot of customers right now.
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

Man I bet those DCX employees are ripping their hair out. My only hope is that quality remains and is top notch. I'd rather have a high-quality car late (of course I already have one... heh).

jatael said:
It's a about time to get the blame to the right place = the sweds. You gave the project to the sweds and this the results. If only you gave the chance to the finnish experts (for example guys in Nokia) we would have some working robots :D
Hah hah, my wife is Swedish... but she's a very smart one:p
 

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Swedish robots?!
That may explain why we've heard people complaining about the fit of the body panels.
Maybe the Swedes should stick to their meatballs and bikini team.
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

ejfb said:
Hahahaha, you are probably right, go next door and kick some Sweds for all the waiting Caliber owners. But I blame the Germans, they run Chrysler. :D
Seems as if you feel almost too safe on the other side of the ocean ejfb :mad:
Well, let me see - business class ticket price from Hamburg to LA and back will be around 300 bucks for me (airliner discount:p ) - Rocky 1 through 4 and Bloodsports on inflight entertainment included - if I get things in gear just now, touch down at LAX will be at about half past two this afternoon - any takers? ;)

Maybe I'd be able to pick a Caliber as a rental for the weekend once our little argument is straightened out:cool:
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

GOT said:
Hah hah, my wife is Swedish... but she's a very smart one:p
Ok ;) But you know the ancient struggle between Sweden and Finland...
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

Swoop said:
Seems as if you feel almost too safe on the other side of the ocean ejfb :mad:
Well, let me see - business class ticket price from Hamburg to LA and back will be around 300 bucks for me (airliner discount:p ) - Rocky 1 through 4 and Bloodsports on inflight entertainment included - if I get things in gear just now, touch down at LAX will be at about half past two this afternoon - any takers? ;)

Maybe I'd be able to pick a Caliber as a rental for the weekend once our little argument is straightened out:cool:
Hahahahaha, well don't get all your panties in a wad, the Germans DO run Chrysler, and somebody planned on building the Caliber as a WORLD CAR, somebody ordered and planned for Robots that are having problems, and sombody decided to ignore sales figures and start adding to the problems with additional vehicles on the same line, when they need MORE Calibers. :D
 

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Re: Blame the robots!!!

jatael said:
Ok ;) But you know the ancient struggle between Sweden and Finland...
No I don't. I'll have to ask the inlaws.
 

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It appears that DCX has gotten caught up on Caliber production. I ordered my Caliber on Aug 9th and today; Aug 17th, the status is D1. Shipping date 8/30/06. That extra shift is paying off.:rolleyes:
 

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JohnC said:
It appears that DCX has gotten caught up on Caliber production. I ordered my Caliber on Aug 9th and today; Aug 17th, the status is D1. Shipping date 8/30/06. That extra shift is paying off.:rolleyes:
Well, its seems that the ship date has now been revised to Sept 9th(Now gone) I am told the car should be in my hands by the 23rd. We shall see.....
 

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hmmm... that doesn't seem fair I ordered mine Aug. 2nd and they telling me i won't get it until October:(
 
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