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GM Global Manufacturing System Is Built Around People

FOR RELEASE: January 9, 2002

GM Global Manufacturing System Is Built Around People

Lansing, Mich. - At its heart, the General Motors Global Manufacturing System (GMS) is built around people. At the all-new Lansing Grand River Assembly (LGR), plant layouts and processes have been designed to support the operator and the teams on the plant floor, so that they can build high-quality vehicles at a competitive cost.

"The success of Lansing Grand River depends on engaging the hearts and minds of all team members in order to improve the business," said Gary Cowger, president of GM North America. "Our system stresses the value of teamwork because every person, in every position, has a lot to offer."

The communications process and environment at LGR are dedicated to helping employees understand their work and allowing them to have input into improvement in their jobs. The role of supervisor is more of a coach or teacher, and leaders receive intensive training in both lean manufacturing and people skills.

"The operators who build the vehicles are the most important people in the manufacturing system," said Robert E. "Bob" Anderson, LGR plant manager. "Because all operators are aware of the role they play in improving plant performance, they are empowered to continuously suggest quality and process improvement changes."

LGR benefits from a highly experienced, self-selected workforce. The plant's average seniority is approximately 24 years, while the range is from five to 30 years. All hourly workers made the choice to work at the new plant after getting a firsthand feel for what to expect in the team-oriented environment.

New contract
A new UAW Local 652 contract endorsed the team concept, giving workers input into development of improved processes. "It's excellent that GM has pushed responsibilities down to the people who do the work," said Art Baker, chairman of the UAW Local 652 shop committee. "It makes for a better environment where the worker feels a new level of respect and responsibility."

During construction of the new plant, an initial team of 15 managers and union leaders went to GM's Eisenach, Germany plant to learn firsthand how the GMS works. While in Germany, they worked on the assembly line in order to learn firsthand the value and necessity of teamwork.

Since that first group, more than 200 of LGR's leaders - both hourly and salaried - have trained at Eisenach, learning the principles of the GMS and how to teach others.

When the first team returned from Eisenach, it began developing training plans for the future workforce. Training plans for each employee covered safety, the principles of GMS, team-building and problem-solving sklls. In addition, individualized job training ranged from one or two months to a full year, depending on the role. By the time the plant reaches capacity, team members will log more than 250,000 total hours of training.

Simulated work environment
Because seniority gives hourly workers the right to transfer to jobs at the new plant, it was decided they should be able to make informed choices. To accomplish this, LGR established a simulated work environment, in which applicants made wooden cars using GMS processes and practices. In addition to giving workers a taste for what to expect, the simulation helped attract the kind of workers who thrive in a team setting.

One part of the simulation involved creating a nearly impossible job for one operator, while a second worker was given far less work. Then the two operators were brought together to break their tasks into job elements and balance work assignments.

In another session, a team of operators was told that a side marker lamp needed to be added on the fenders to meet export requirements. Although there was enough time spread over all the members of the team to perform the operation, no single member had the time to accomplish the task. Team members were asked to find a solution to re-balance the work to allow time for the side marker lamp.

Applicants learned that they would be working in this type of environment in which small teams work out issues such as job rotation, which allows varied work and provides the opportunity to balance work content among team members. The applicants were asked to assess whether they were comfortable with this type of empowered environment, or preferred a more traditional management structure.

"As a result of the simulation and self-assessment, every hourly employee at LGR chose to be here," Anderson said. "That makes a significant impact on the environment in the plant."

Defining processes
In August 1999, the first members of the hourly team came aboard to focus on issues such as buildability, maintainability, sustainability of processes, and related ergonomic requirements. An Operator Support Center (OSC) was created to enable simulation of processes to demonstrate how they would work after the General Assembly plant was completed. At OSC, production team members developed ideas and helped define their own work content in line with safety, quality, and productivity goals.

Working with base engineering data, team members line-balanced their jobs - building them up, sub-element by sub-element, to create an efficient operation that could be performed consistently and safely.

Another special program used "pilot teams" of experienced hourly workers to help develop engineering and process equipment designs. The pilot teams provided an operator's viewpoint, so that the designs and operations would be comfortable for the workers while increasing productivity, maintainability and safety.

Focus on operator
LGR's commitment to support its people is reflected in the plant layout, which focuses on people needs. Team members enjoy well-lit workstations, climate-controlled buildings, open office environments, team rooms, and pleasant cafeterias in all three buildings, with windows and skylights.

The plant design also supports operators with better ergonomics. For example, General Assembly uses "skillet" conveyors - large, moving platforms that support both the vehicle and the operator building the vehicle. Team members can adjust the height of the car, helping to reduce fatigue and improve quality. In the LGR Paint Department, innovative conveyor systems reduce plant floor noise and help provide a clean environment.

"Our teams own their slice of the business," Anderson said. "If they need help beyond their team resources, we have dedicated staff people to support them, whether it's a matter of the quality of a part, a change of process, a change of tools or a revision of a work layout."

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