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Old Trailer Helps Chrysler Teach New Techniques

February 5, 2014
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What does an old NASCAR trailer have in common with world-class manufacturing? Lots, if you work in a Chrysler Group assembly plant. The automaker has turned the trailer into a mobile classroom that it’s using to help spread its lean manufacturing philosophy.

Chrysler operates a 25,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art training center in Warren, MI, that serves assemblers in the Detroit area. The World Class Manufacturing (WCM) Academy combines classroom and hands-on sessions to address key lean manufacturing principles, such as continuous improvement and waste elimination (to find out more, click “Learning About Manufacturing Can Be Fun”).

In an effort to expand the training academy and educate more employees on WCM methodology, Chrysler recently converted a motorsports car hauler (the 53-foot trailer formerly served the Dodge NASCAR team) and turned it into an interactive classroom on wheels.

“Now, we can bring the academy directly to the plants,” says Wendy Santure, training and development lead for the mobile unit and the WCM Academy. “This allows us to have an immediate impact on [satellite] plants by delivering key concepts and methods in a quick, concentrated way. By expanding WCM deeper into the plants, we can ensure all employees are using the methodology.”

I recently had an opportunity to see the mobile classroom in action at Chrysler’s 49-year-old Belvidere Assembly Plant, which is home to the Dodge Dart, Jeep Compass and Jeep Patriot (to learn more about this facility, click “Chrysler Rethinks Its Belvidere Plant”). Due to Midwestern winter weather conditions, the trailer was parked inside the body shop (in warmer weather, an awning can be deployed along the side of the trailer).

“Employees from different parts of the plant, including the body shop, the paint shop, the chassis line and the trim line, in addition to support functions such as material handling and maintenance, were selected to participate in each 30-person class,” says Eric Schimmel, plant manager.

Each class was subdivided into two smaller groups. One class sat in rows of chairs arranged next to the trailer with a large video screen in front acting as a blackboard. The other group of employees stepped into the trailer and sat down at small workstations arranged along both sides. A large video monitor dominates the front of the classroom, while the walls are lined with wipe-off boards.

During the training session, employees were exposed to two different 30-minute classes that reviewed the basic elements of WCM, such as 10 technical pillars that form the system’s foundation. Each of the pillars depend on the involvement of people to improve safety, quality, workplace organization, environment and equipment breakdowns.

Belvidere assemblers also learned about the importance of identifying and fighting the causes of waste in the production and logistics system. They were taught how to resolve simple problems based on the PDCA (Plan, Do, Check, Act) cycle. In addition, employees were handed a one-page “quick kaizen” form and encouraged to submit an idea, problem or concern affecting their daily job routine.

After each group of employees had a chance to learn inside the mobile classroom, the entire group gathered outside for a 30-minute quiz patterned after the “Jeopardy” TV game show.

Since the WCM Academy was launched in 2011, it has achieved some impressive results. In addition to providing hands-on training and development to 7,000 people, it has produced some impressive cost savings.

For instance, Chrysler has already notched $61 million in project savings at the plant level. The automaker saved $48 million alone in 2013. Programs such as quick kaizen and kaizen-of-the-the-month (a recognition and reward system in place at every Chrysler assembly plant) have helped eliminate and reduce expensive bottlenecks such as equipment breakdowns and work stoppages.

During a three-day visit to the Belvidere plant this week, 500 employees will learn how to improve the assembly process and boost quality in the mobile classroom. The trailer will visit the facility again later this year, in addition to travelling back and forth to assembly plants in Brampton, ON; Kokomo, IN; and Toledo, OH.

I applaud Chrysler for this developing this innovative way to teach lean manufacturing principles. Perhaps other automakers should deploy similar mobile classrooms.

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