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Microchips shortage halts production, but not at Jeep’s new Detroit plant

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Detroit – Stellantis NV is extending downtime at some of its plants, but its newest in Detroit is producing the three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee L.

Mack Assembly Plant is the city’s first new car assembly plant in 30 years. The brightly lit factory with an area of ​​3 million square meters started production in March and works five days a week in three shifts with around 4,900 employees, including 2,100 newly hired Detroiters.

“Some of them had never seen parts before. These guys worked so well with me, ”said Jack Fox Jr., a mechanical engineer responsible for the tools used to install the chassis and drivetrain. “I’ve worked everywhere – St. Louis, Belvidere – they have a great workforce here.”

Giving the Detroiters their first chance at jobs at the new plant was part of the transatlantic automaker’s joint venture agreement to build the $ 1.6 billion facility adjacent to the North Jefferson Assembly Plant, home of the two-row Jeep Grand Cherokee and Dodge Durango SUVs, on the east side of Detroit.

As a result of the new hires, the workforce is younger than in most plants. The average employee age is 40 years and the average work experience is five years. The more time auto workers spend in the company, the more wages they receive.

Benny Wilkinson, 37, is one of the dedicated Detroiters. Now he’s working on the line’s final stage. He walked to the plant in his first week there.

“I noticed a bit that everything was being rebuilt,” said Wilkinson. “There are a lot of familiar faces straight out of the community. I feel a little more comfortable in this job because I can do it for quite a while. It’s not part-time or on-call, not really knowing all the time if you can bid. It is a big deal to me and my family. “

Mack will also build the next-generation Grand Cherokee when shared later this year, including a plug-in hybrid model. But the larger L version represents white space with the potential for significant profit margins

That makes it a priority for Stellantis as it maneuvers through the unprecedented, pandemic-induced shortage of microchips for vehicle electronics from automated driving functions to heated seats. Meanwhile, other plants are laying off hundreds of workers temporarily – and in one case indefinitely -.

At the Jeep Cherokee Crossover plant in Belvidere, Illinois, the second shift will be canceled next month; it and the Chrysler minivan plant in Windsor, Ontario, and the Jeep Compass transition plant in Toluca, Mexico will be down through the rest of June, the company said Thursday. Belvidere was due to close the week of June 28th and Windsor’s vacation was scheduled for the week of June 21st.

“Stellantis continues to work closely with our suppliers to mitigate the production impact caused by the various supply chain problems in our industry,” spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said in an email.

Jefferson North cut crews last month due to supply chain constraints, but Mack is still running at full speed.

A 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L body will cycle through the nearline laser radar as robots measure hundreds of preprogrammed surface and alignment points at the Stellantis Mack Assembly Complex in Detroit on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

The plant consists of two buildings in which engines were previously produced. Around 700 of these employees still work here today. However, working with the existing site came with its challenges, said Eric Goedtel, senior manager of Plant Facility Engineering.

“We were really limited by the size of the site to make sure we could fit everything in here,” he said.

The city of Detroit acquired 215 acres to allow the automaker to expand the property, mainly for parking, a move that has caused complaints and protests from some local residents, particularly along Beniteau Street, who want the company to do more to address the concerns of the neighborhood.

The vehicles begin in the 650,000 square meter body shop, the former Mack Engine II building, which had been closed since 2012. The building is home to 578 robots, which do most of the work in assembling the steel and aluminum structure of the vehicle. Hour process.

The vehicles then go to the paint shop, a new 800,000 square meter, five-story building that was built on a former employee parking lot. This fully automated process takes 12 hours and uses 124 robots. Workers end up checking for imperfections. The system can paint up to 11 colors at the same time, and 40% of the vehicles are two-tone and have a black top, said Michael Brieda, the plant manager.

Eddie Baldwin, production operator, is preparing to install a door for a Jeep Grand Cherokee L 2021 at the Stellantis Mack Assembly Complex in Detroit on Thursday, June 10, 2021.

The final building is the General Assembly, the former Mack Engine I building where Pentastar engines were built until December 2019. Production and equipment were relocated to the Dundee Engine Plant. Most of the line workers are in this 1 million square foot facility where a line snakes back and forth.

Here, said Goedtel, the company had encountered a number of challenges. In order to move the girders that hold the vehicle from end to start again, the company had to push open the roof at one point. The ceiling struts were also too low in some places to be cleared, and workers had to lift them in 122 places.

“That was very labor-intensive,” said Gödtel. “It took a lot of work to do it.”

To assemble the vehicles, the company found ways to use robots to aid in some of the more difficult tasks. A robot now lifts a box with the vehicle’s wiring harness into its body while driving.

“We saw this as an opportunity to address ergonomic concerns when installing this harness,” said Mason Trang, a timing specialist. “As the vehicles get more advanced, the wire harnesses get a little bigger and heavier. We have implemented robots so that we don’t have to load this heavy cable harness into the vehicle. “

Other additions focus on quality. A camera-and-laser gap-and-flush technology that measures gaps between metal sheets – typically used in bodywork – now also checks vehicles at the end of the line.

A 2021 Jeep Grand Cherokee L will be driven through the Buzz, Squeak and Rattle (BSR) course on Thursday, June 10, 2021, in the General Assembly Building in the Stellantis Mack Assembly Complex in Detroit, simulating real driving conditions.

The company also installed its second buzz, squeak and rattle test task. The 2,000-foot course drives each vehicle through potholes, speed bumps, cobblestones, and other elements to test soundproofing and loose fasteners. The Ram 1500 truck plant in Sterling Heights also has one. An electronic shaker complements this test for even more aggressive conditions. It’s the first of its kind in North America, according to the company, as most use hydraulic systems.

“It’s quiet, energy efficient, and inexpensive,” said Ray Peterson, director of product vehicle development for the Grand Cherokee L.

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Dusty Kennedy