The General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington is going to three shifts on January 27th. The plant, built in the early 50’s, builds full sized SUV’s like the Cadillac Escalade. This is the first time the Texas Plant has gone to three shifts, good news for the workers there now. Since the demand for full-sized SUV’s skyrocketed over ten years ago the plant has been operating at full bore since. Ten-hour shifts have been going on for the last three years in a row without a break.
But to add a third shift required the hiring of over a thousand new workers. All of them had to be trained and ready by the end of the year. So GM trainers built a training center on the top floor of the massive facility including a mock assembly line of “cars” made of wood. Today they invited a small group of journalist to go through a four-hour training session to learn the GM Way.
Teaching assembly is to teach the power of precision. You learn it like you will do it, step by step. The system is incredibly detailed, each step at every work station are written out in a manual. Team leaders work the line to make sure all the trainees follow the procedure exactly.
Joe Coleman is a 13-year veteran with GM and started working as a trainer this September. “We have a lot of new hires that come in actually never used a battery gun, never even screwed on a nut or bolt before” said Coleman.
The assembly line is nothing more than a plywood “car” that requires you either to add a few parts or to take them off. All parts are numbered and have to go the exact bin, then those bins have to be moved to other areas of the line. Everyone has to do their job if the line is going to keep moving.
Everyone was taught two different tasks, just like new hires be at their first assignment. Gone is the old assembly-line formula of doing the same job over and over. Team members are rotated through four to six jobs, sometimes during the same shift.
“If you know more jobs there’s more room to catch any quality defects down the line” said Coleman.
The first twenty minute session today produced half the quota (we had about 20 people, we needed to build 18 cars). Then the teams took a twenty minute break for a team meeting and an very detailed (and cataloged) assessment.
Trainees not only learn the logo, the color codes and the paperwork (which is exactly the same by the way at EVERY work station at EVERY G-M plant), they learn how to work together. The lines are purposefully set-up to work inefficiently. The meeting is about finding better techniques to move the line faster and produce fewer errors.
On the second shift quota was made. And this was the true lesson today; better ideas make for better quality. This is what GM has learned over the century of car manufacturing, keep everyone on the same page (literally, every step to build a SUV is in a book on the line. Then you have everyone own the process and work together to build it faster, better and safer).
The third shift will start in January. It is hoped by the supervisors that their first lesson in wood will insure a successful career in metal.
The plant will operate on three shifts to build up inventory. Sometime in the next year the plant will have to shut down for five weeks; the line at Arlington hasn’t stopped in years due to demand. The shutdown will be to re-tool the line for the “significantly redesigned” GM SUV’s. The first of the 2014 models will actually start coming down the line this summer in trail runs. Trainers have to write new manuals and then teach them to the 4,500 workers on the line. Precision takes lots of preparation.
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