New Innovations In Manufacturing Will Further Improve GM's Quality
WARREN, Mich. - A new innovative manufacturing technology developed by General Motors Corp. could enable the company to run 4-, 6-, and 8-cylinder engine parts on the same machine, reducing changeover costs and improving quality.
GM R&D's new agile machining fixture, recently named R&D Magazine's "Top 100 Innovations for 2004," is among three new manufacturing innovations unveiled today that will enable the company to quickly respond to customers' changing needs.
"We are driving innovation into our manufacturing operations with highly flexible technologies that can perform multiple functions and identify opportunities to improve quality," said Larry Burns, vice president of Research and Development and Planning. "These manufacturing tools and systems will enable the company to save millions of dollars in our body assembly and machining operations."
Typically, GM's machining operations have been designed to process one specific product, because the clamps, or fixtures which hold the parts, cannot accommodate more than one application at a time.
According to Steve Holland, director of GM's Manufacturing Systems Research Lab, GM's new agile machining fixture has a unique flexible design, which is an industry first because it can be easily reconfigured to machine multiple product designs in a matter of minutes versus several months, the time it can take to change to a new fixture.
The GM agile machining fixture will be installed in a low volume application within a GM Powertrain plant in the first quarter of 2005 and will help maximize capacity utilization and enable more efficient product changeovers.
"With this innovative agile fixturing concept we can now run different engine or transmission families across common machining lines," said John Schweikert, executive director of Manufacturing Engineering, GM Powertrain Division. "As the concept continues to pass validation testing, we will identify additional applications in our Powertrain plants."
GM's agile machining is the result of four years of innovative research conducted by GM R&D with patents issued and pending related to the technology.
In another development, a computer based vision system recently developed by GM is helping employees in 22 body assembly plants in the United States, Canada and Mexico to quickly diagnose issues and ensure quality.
The Video Variance Monitor uses a video camera to capture part cycles and transfers the digital images to a computer. Then, with GM R&D developed software, the dimensional engineers or toolmakers can visualize the entire sequence frame by frame on the computer to find the root cause of the variation.
"We use this technology on operations where it is difficult to see with the naked eye what is causing the problem," said Gene Morrison, dimensional engineering manager at GM Flint Truck Assembly. "The technology has helped us to take a lot of time out of resolving quality issues."
The Variation Reduction Adviser, another GM R&D innovation, is a web-based software tool that is also helping employees resolve quality issues. It is being used in 11 GM body shops in the United States, Mexico and Canada, saving up to $15 million a year.
At their computers, employees can view and analyze body shop operations and share problem-solving data on various parts and operations, within the plant and across the 11 GM assembly centers. When a new problem occurs, employees can conduct a search to learn if the issue has occurred before and how it was addressed. When a new issue is solved, the problem and its solution are logged for future use. All shifts across all 11 assembly plants can share each other's solutions.
"We use the VR Adviser in our daily routine to effectively communicate, look for opportunities to improve quality and check for potential quality issues on parts that we have common with other plants," said Dan Rach, manufacturing engineer at GM's Flint Truck Assembly plant.
Rach estimates that there are hundreds of manufacturing operations, dimensional tolerance issues and fit operations that the body shop needs to monitor to ensure the quality of each GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pick-up built in the Flint Truck Assembly plant. "Before, we had to rely on the telephone or log books to keep track of quality solutions or new tooling ideas for various parts."
The VR Adviser has been implemented in two languages, English and Spanish, and a German version is under consideration by GM Opel. GM R&D has pending patents related to this technology.
"The use of agile manufacturing tools and systems will enable the company to reshape our manufacturing operations and enhance our ability to respond to the radical changes taking place driven by an extremely competitive global marketplace," said Burns.