The third shift -- equaling approximately 900 new jobs -- was added in early 2004. It not only increased the plant's capacity, but also improved its flexibility to accommodate the all-new 2005 Dodge Dakota, meet ever-changing customer demands, and add future product.
"Warren Truck is a model for flexible manufacturing. It has the ability to build numerous permutations of multiple body styles on one assembly line," said Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler Group Executive Vice President - Manufacturing. "Add to that one of the few plants operating 24 hours a day, up to six days a week, and you have a world-class facility, raising the bar for this type of operating schedule in the industry."
While the addition of the third shift was one of the most significant transformations at WTAP, other modifications have been made in anticipation of the launch of the new Dakota. New manufacturing technologies and processes were incorporated. They include major changes to the cab and box framing and box sub-assembly areas, the body shop and the paint shop to accommodate the unique body panels of each vehicle.
About $100 million was invested to prepare the plant for the 2005 Dakota. Just a few short years ago, $156 million was invested in preparation for the launch of the 2002 Dodge Ram. Add to that another $35 million invested in a third shift and the Chrysler Group has made substantial improvements to upgrade a brownfield site. Those upgrades will allow for rolling vehicle launches and test-build pilot vehicles while not interrupting current model production.
"With these changes, if product strategy calls for a product derivative, then manufacturing is better poised to support the launch of the new model," said Bob Bowers, Warren Truck Assembly Plant Manager. "If the vehicle has the same underbody and a different 'top hat,' then it makes it easier for us to build."
The launch of the Dakota allowed for a restructuring of the plant's materials handling system to accommodate the greater complexity and variety of parts. Parts are now shipped in small, pre-configured, pre-sequenced lots and delivered to the plant floor in small batches, better utilizing floor space and allowing for greater options available to customers.
The launch team also implemented a "Protect the Customer" (PTC) line, which is an additional vehicle inspection line focusing on customer touch points and potential process defects. Issues discovered in the PTC are tracked back through the system for corrective action and future prevention. Warren Truck is one of many Chrysler Group plants that has implemented this type of initiative, ensuring that only the highest quality vehicles are being delivered to customers.
Warren Truck began operating a third shift this past May. Many hurdles were overcome to implement one of the smoothest launches at Chrysler Group, in part due to advanced preparation and over 80,000 hours of employee training.
WTAP was designed to be a two-shift operation with little unused white space for an expansion to accommodate a third shift. Due to close collaboration between management, the UAW and the entire plant workforce, the facility built the required production volumes on the first day the shift launched and has continued to operate smoothly since that time.
In addition, the employees, on their own initiative, addressed the issue of transitioning between shifts, eliminating the need to shut the line down as is typical in most assembly plants. They created a "buddy" system that requires each employee to arrive 15 minutes ahead of their shift to start work on the line while the other employee finishes a job. Because the employees had ownership of this process, it was adopted easily on all three shifts.
The success of the third shift can be measured in a number of ways, but one of the most important is in employee morale. Now with three eight-hour shifts and no extensive overtime, the workforce is less fatigued, which has resulted in a nearly five percent decrease in absenteeism and better quality metrics than the original two-shift operation.
Warren Truck Assembly produces the all-new Dodge Dakota Regular, Club and Quad Cab pickup trucks and the Dodge Ram 1500 series Quad Cab. A third model for Mitsubishi will be added to the assembly line next year.
The 2005 Dodge Dakota is one of the last vehicles launched in the Chrysler Group's 2004 product offensive. The Dakota is the largest, most powerful, and most capable mid-size truck with full-size styling, feel and power. Offering the only V-8 engine in its class, the new Dakota is more fuel efficient than its predecessor and dominates the market in power and torque.