By on February 10, 2012

More and more U.S, carmakers run their plant 24 hours a day by adding a 3rd shift, reports Bloomberg. U.S. auto plants are estimated to run at 81 percent capacity, up from 49 percent in 2009, IHS Automotive says. In the business, capacity utilization above 80 percent is considered good, anything lower is thought to be an invitation to disaster.

Running three shifts a day also is considered dangerous. Repairs have to be neglected or postponed. Quality sinks. To avoid this, and to adapt output to demand, carmakers devise more flexible solutions. Bloomberg explains:

Rather than running round-the-clock into a full third shift, Chrysler and Ford are adding so-called third crews, which rotate in groups of additional workers during less-busy times of the day and evening and on weekends to allow the plants to operate more hours weekly. Ford will have four plants in Kentucky, Michigan, and Illinois on the three-crew system within the next year, meaning those plants will run about 120 hours out of the 168 possible, instead of the 100 hours for a two-shift run.

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49 Comments on “U.S. Car Plants Redline...”


  • avatar
    FJ60LandCruiser

    reminds me of the old GM adage to buy a car built on wednesday because monday and tuesday the UAW would be too hung over from the weekend to give a crap and thursday and friday they’d be slacking in anticipation of the next. should i add avoiding a car made in the buttcrack of dawn to that list?

    • 0 avatar
      pgcooldad

      Auto plants have been running “in the buttcrack of dawn” since my grandfather painted the rims for Model T’s. Production starts anywhere from 5-6am and pipefitters, electricians and others start even earlier in order to fire up equipment and have it production ready. It’s not uncommon for them to come in at 3am.
      On many occasions I’ve left home early in the morning and my kids were still playing video games in the den.

      • 0 avatar
        mcs

        Back in the late 60′s and 70′s, I heard stories that the overnight shifts had a more relaxed atmosphere – in a good way.

        Also, back in the days before air conditioning in plants, the multi floored plants like Fisher Body Fleetwood would get insanely hot during the day in the summer. The heat wasn’t as bad on the midnight shift.

    • 0 avatar
      damikco

      That could be the same for any industry.

  • avatar
    mikey

    @FJ60LandCruiser…This may come as shock to you.

    The worker on a modern assembly line has very little impact,on build quality.

    Such facts can be confirmed here at TTAC,by those that actualy know what thier talking about.

    • 0 avatar
      dejal1

      Still would prefer workers not getting tanked on booze or drugs like the Chrysler workers are/were and getting caught on camera.

      Would the autos be as good if everyone on the line was like that?
      If no, then your statement is false, because it would only have a little impact on quality.

      Not singling them out other than that who was on the videos. I’m sure that there’s similar situations in all businesses.

      • 0 avatar
        Educator(of teachers)Dan

        But I would agree with Mikey in that the problems I’ve had with products over the years have had more to to with being engineered to a price or squeezing suppliers untill they give you crap components. As an example: The problems that almost all manufacturers have had with various automatic transmissions crapping out at silly low miles have had to do with transmissions not strong enough to do the job and not fitted from the factory with thermostaically controlled trans coolers. That is not the fault of Honda workers or Chrysler workers or GM workers, it is the fault of management squeezing engineers and suppliers.

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        The flip side to that is people like, eg, my uncle, who worked at Oshawa Truck, and had actually attempted to flag problem parts only to be told (by his foreman, and then by management) that it wasn’t his problem.

        My grandfather used to tell similar stories about TRW/Thompson Products (who used to assemble for Chrysler). Though admittedly workers had more leeway at that time.

        So yes, there are problems with labour and substance abuse, but it’s very hard, in a modern plant, for labour to be able to affect product quality. If labour can adversely affect quality in a modern plant, then that too, is the plant management’s fault.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “The flip side to that is people like, eg, my uncle, who worked at Oshawa Truck, and had actually attempted to flag problem parts only to be told (by his foreman, and then by management) that it wasn’t his problem.”

        That example illustrates the difference between a mass production line and lean production.

        If that was a lean production line, your uncle and all of the other line workers would be expected to look for defects. If necessary, the line would be stopped to fix a defect. If that defect was part of a pattern, then an effort would be made to change the parts and/ or assembly process so that the defect would stop being an issue. The primary goal of a lean production system is zero defects.

        On a mass production line, quality control is avoided until the end of the line. Workers are expected to do their repetitive job, not to make suggestions or spot defects. Not only is worker input not wanted, but there can be consequences for those workers who go the extra mile to try to make improvements. The primary goal of a mass production is capacity utilization — the idea of stopping the line to fix defects is contrary to the process. Pushing the QC to the end necessarily increases the error rate.

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      “The worker on a modern assembly line has very little impact on build quality.”

      Yep. The whole point of an assembly line is to minimize the variability in product output due to human error.

      The processes and parts are standardized so that the individual people make almost no difference. If cars were truly hand-built, virtually no one who reads this website would be able to afford one, plus the quality would vary widely.

      Toyota and Honda did a superior job because they combined better parts with a lean production system. Lean production does a better job of identifying and fixing defects than does traditional mass production. The process matters, and the process comes from management.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        “Toyota and Honda did a superior job”

        Key word is ‘did.’ I would say all car companies are on a level playing field now. This is based on my personal experience at the plant level.

        I would venture to say that ‘push’ style manufacturing died in the 80′s. Honestly, it’s all about top-down culture (management).

        Lean is only the first piece of the puzzle. Quality operating systems can only function in a lean manufacturing setting.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “I would say all car companies are on a level playing field now.”

        I wouldn’t. JD Power and other such research would tend to support my position.

        The gap has shrunk and is gone in individual cases, but it is still there. It is the consumer’s choice to determine whether the gap is large enough to influence their purchases.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        When it comes to manufacturing scope and capability, you’re incorrect.

        When it comes to customer perception, design execution, warranty metrics, etc., you’re absolutely correct. And according to J.D. Power, some of the big three have eclipsed competitors. But that is a continual race and it changes year to year. And again, coming from my first hand experience, it’s a metric that is fed from upper management. It’s crazy to see your goals be influenced by third party companies.

        But that is apples and oranges. I was talking about the apples.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “When it comes to customer perception…”

        Of course. Blame the customer for manufacturer defects. Some things never change.

      • 0 avatar
        bd2

        “I wouldn’t. JD Power and other such research would tend to support my position.

        The gap has shrunk and is gone in individual cases, but it is still there. It is the consumer’s choice to determine whether the gap is large enough to influence their purchases.”

        - Except JDP and Consumer Reports don’t take into account RECALLS and Toyota was leading in that category for a few years until Honda surplanted them for 2011.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Except JDP and Consumer Reports don’t take into account RECALLS”

        That’s false. They conduct owner’s surveys, which count defects.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Pch101,
        I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here. If you want to back up your misrepresentation of my post with factual info, be my guest. I’ll be waiting.

        If you’re just arguing just for the sake of it, you’re great at that. Pat yourself on the back.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “I’m not sure what you’re trying to do here.”

        Being accurate. This is supposedly The **Truth** About Cars, not The PR Spin About Cars.

        “If you want to back up your misrepresentation of my post with factual info, be my guest.”

        Just one example: http://businesscenter.jdpower.com/JDPAContent/CorpComm/News/content/Releases/charts/2011089-1.jpg

        The issues per vehicle are twice as high on the worst than they are for the best. Lexus leads the survey, while the very best domestic (Cadillac) has 41% more problems per vehicle than does Lexus and is roughly just average for the industry. None of the domestics are above average.

        They aren’t all the same. The gap has shrunk, but there is still a gap. If you have proof to the contrary, then provide it.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        http://businesscenter.jdpower.com/news/pressrelease.aspx?ID=2010099

        I’m not trying to ‘win’ your confidence or won’t eve try to explain how reputation correlates into Things Gone Wrong reporting or how JD Power reporting correlates with new model launches and what went on in 2011.

        All I can tell you is that yes, these metrics are utilized in quality scorecards that feed to the plant production floor level. It isn’t ignored.

        I can also tell you that the majority of those problems/100 vehicles from that 2011 report for one manufacturer are technology dependent. They aren’t due to a manufacturing defect, more so a defect that was signed off as something that met design intent. Which is horribly disappointing. You have a manufacturing structure that is world class, yet all it takes is for a few high up decision makers to shoot your company’s reputation with a decision to green light a feature. But it has nothing to do with Lean. I see where you’re trying to go with this, but I’m going to chalk it up to stigma. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” Some of these manufacturers’ plight is well deserved from some of the crap they pushed out the doors two decades ago.

        Again, I’m still not seeing the lack of lean principles in production. When I go to China for work, I can’t see lean principles what-so-ever. The days of shoveling in parts and ‘if it looks like a car, ship it’ are long over in North America. Your position has narrowed quite a bit since I first challenged it. But lean being absent means your plant will get shut down. Plain and simple. I have a scope of experience that ranges from time studying a temp and walking said temp out a door, to developing a plant budget to a QC job that controls new product. You can’t make money without tight inventory management, production control (SPC), and JIT principles. And if you can, hang onto that government contract. Hopefully this sheds some light on a different perspective. And if it doesn’t, I apologize. If you want to know anything specific, let me know and I’ll do my best to share. I don’t ‘spin PR.’ The only thing that links me to my work is my paycheck and my personal satisfaction of the task at hand.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “All I can tell you is that yes, these metrics are utilized in quality scorecards that feed to the plant production floor level. It isn’t ignored.”

        I didn’t claim that the results were ignored. I claimed that the results vary from company to company, with some worse than others.

        And my point was correct. You’ve done nothing to disprove it. Your opinions don’t concern me — provide some evidence.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        That link counters your evidence you provided to me. It’s the same level of information you shared with me, just a previous year. I see one notable manufacturer that is better than a ‘non domestic one’ with two brands scoring in the above avg category.

        I could go into detail about …(redacted due to possibility of sharing too much)…. But you would have to follow me around at work for a week. I think you would enjoy it. (It’s quality control for new product launches)

        Here’s a 2009 IQS that refutes your 2011 IQS in the same manner as the previous link I shared:
        http://businesscenter.jdpower.com/news/pressrelease.aspx?ID=2009108

        It’s easier and it won’t get me fired.

        Please provide me an example of where a ‘domestic’ brand doesn’t utilize lean principles. Now THAT is something I would find fascinating. It would be like traveling back in time. I want to see a line that doesn’t have intermittent poke-a-yokes. I want to see a line with no part sequencing. I want to see a line with no EOL testing. I want to see a facility that lacks containment procedures. Because I would LOVE to apply and be plant manager in a week. That would kick ass.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        Your point is moot unless we can move onto something beside J.D. power. Which if you worked for a direct competitor of where I work, I would love to share a beer and compare notes. But anything short of that is impossible due to conflict of interest (want to keep my job).

        But I think the two links I provided nullify your argument. If you disagree, provide some evidence beyond J.D. Power and I’ll cheers your internet win.

        I also am curious your experience with Lean production, since this is why I interjected. Not because of some J.D. Power publication. Humor me and fill me in on your qualifications.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “That link counters your evidence you provided to me”

        Did you not read what you posted, or are you trying to insult my intelligence?

        You posted a link that essentially grouped together the likes of Lexus and Honda with Land Rover and Volkswagen, and proclaimed, “Look, there’s no gap!”

        That’s complete nonsense. The issue isn’t Domestic vs. Imports, with the Germans, Japanese and Brits/ Indians all grouped together, but of how individual brands compare with each other. And we can see from the ranking that the domestics (a) don’t exceed the average, (b) don’t beat the best of the Japanese and (c) don’t lead the survey.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        I see Ford, brands inclusive, exceeding in both consecutive years sans Lincoln in 2009. I’m not trying to insult your intelligence.

        Now when you claim brand differentiation isn’t related to stigmas, you’re either not reading what I’m trying to tell you, or you’re missing my point: brands carry certain expectations. Marketing personnel make a living doing this. They try to develop a brand. A plant can make multiple brands. Now why one brand will receive a higher warranty report rate than the same brand that comes down the same line has a lot to do with that stigma.

        This stigma carries into manufacturers’ expectations, as well.

        So I’m not really seeing your point either. I think you’re jump to conclusions foo is strong. I initially spoke on terms of Lean production. Then you pulled out a metric for warranty, which throws in several variables besides the plant level. I think you used Lean out of context. No, I know you did. Because warranty work can be related to complaints about designs ‘the way the designer intended them to be.’ They also can be heavily skewed on brand expectations. Not to mention warranty work can also be conjured up at the dealer level, but that’s a discussion I don’t want to dive into.

        Now bone up on your qualifications for your production experience. I’m either not on the same page as you or you’re successfully trolling me.

      • 0 avatar
        tresmonos

        And FYI, my original disagreement was your contention Toyota and Honda used Lean principles while other didn’t. I never disagreed with much else. Customer perception directly feeds into warranty claims. If you think you bought a car from a company that has sucked in the past, you will go to the dealer and complain sooner than someone who thinks they bought a car from a brand that has a good reputation.

        Now, how does Toyota and Honda use Lean where others don’t?

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Mikey is right. Just look up Deming’s “red bead experiment”.

      A well-engineered car requires very little hand-fitting or craftsmanship. Your cell phone is an excellent example, being assembled by little girls who know nothing about electronics.

      This is why the general quality level of cars has gone way up over the years, and problems peculiar to certain mfrs are more related to design (see “VW electrical systems”).

  • avatar
    carbiz

    There is a big difference between having a couple of beers, or smoking a joint, on one’s lunch break, than getting ‘tanked.’ Nobody begrudged the ‘liquid lunch’ executives that once was commonplace (and Mad Men once again glorifies), yet the famous stories of ‘drunk’ or ‘disorderly’ union workers still makes the rounds today.
    And if the law & order crowd weren’t making so much damned money off chasing punks who smoke pot, the hippy crowd (now all lawyers and doctors anyway) would have had at least that substance legalized many moons ago.
    If random drug testing were mandatory in ALL workplaces today, I truly believe the DEA and their sycophants will have to rethink their agenda. There simply isn’t enough court space for the millions of recreational users of pot, coke and far worse – all of whom are productive, tax paying members of society.
    No kidding, a source no less than the Congressional Research Service released a 2006 report. I just gotta quote it, it’s too funny: “Some 19 million Americans use illicit drugs at least once per month, spending by most conservative estimates over $60 billion annually in a diverse and fragmented criminal market.”
    Well! My word. There must be a lot of rich 18 year olds out there that can afford that size of a stash, because the good ‘ol boys in Washington (and just what habits did J. Edgar Hoover have?) would have us believe the drugs universally destroy lives, families and communities.
    Anyway, depending on who your whipping boy is, we can blame society’s evils on whomever you please.
    Personally, I find it sad that Detroit companies that are able to run their factories 24/7 makes headline news. I have many theories about that, and it has very little to do with some guy smoking a joint in his car on his break.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      Drinking at lunch time was, up to around 1989, De Rigeur, if you will, especially on Fridays.

      In my earlier designing days when things were done the old way, by hand – no computer CAD systems, trying to get anything done after lunch on those occasions – well, if it could wait until Monday – it waited until Monday!

      It made for a very l-o-n-g afternoon, but two beers is all I could handle then and now!

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Executives don’t operate heavy machinery. Just like with truckers, pilots, and surgeons; sobriety requirements are much higher for people who control industrial equipment.

      If line workers have no impact on product quality, then why are they paid so much?

      If their value-add is low, why not replace them with a bunch of winos for minimum wage?

      • 0 avatar
        supersleuth

        Why do executives who run once-great companies into the ground get paid millions?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Executives don’t operate heavy machinery.”

        They manage the process, and approve the designs and the parts.

        “If line workers have no impact on product quality, then why are they paid so much?”

        Because traditionally, the jobs sucked. Henry Ford created the $5 day because it was cheaper to triple the wage than it was to have lower output due to the high turnover that the plants had when the pay was lower.

        “If their value-add is low, why not replace them with a bunch of winos for minimum wage?”

        Newly hired autoworkers earn incomes that are below the national average. They aren’t lavishly paid.

        A lot of the costs that Detroit was complaining about were due to health care. The money paid for healthcare goes to doctors, hospitals, clinics and pharmaceutical companies, not to workers.

        I started my own business five years ago. My own health insurance premiums have tripled over that period. What am I supposed to do about that, fire myself?

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        My point about executives is that an impaired office worker is much less likely to kill somebody than an impaired forklift driver; so the standards for sobriety are higher for the forklift driver.

        Management is certainly responsible for the failure of the US auto industry over the last few generations, but I don’t think a paper-pusher drinking at work is directly analogous to a machine operator doing the same.

        I think you misinterpreted my comments about auto worker pay. I wasn’t seriously suggesting that they should be replaced with winos; instead I was trying to make the point that even with modern lean production systems it’s important to have good people on the line.

        This is why even non-union manufacturing plants typically pay well above minimum wage, and do not hire crews of winos.

        Even if they make less than the national average, I suspect that newly-hired auto workers make more than other people with the same background in the same area.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “even with modern lean production systems it’s important to have good people on the line.”

        Not really. The people need to be average, but not stellar.

        If a production line was designed to require heroic, exceptional workers, then it would fail. As Toyota points out rightly, they have designed their lines to get superior results out of average people. That is smart — a production system that requires that many workers can’t possibly function if only a few people in the society are qualified to work there.

        “This is why even non-union manufacturing plants typically pay well above minimum wage, and do not hire crews of winos.”

        Again, that isn’t it. If they paid minimum wage, then they’d be spending more time hiring workers to replace those who quit than they would be building cars.

        Most of the cost of a car is in the parts, not in the labor. It makes sense to get those parts assembled into cars as quickly as possible. If the line slows down because the workforce is constantly being replaced, then that costs money. That’s why Ford tripled the wage — he wanted to keep the line moving.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        “Not really. The people need to be average, but not stellar.

        If a production line was designed to require heroic, exceptional workers, then it would fail. ”

        Agreed, and I never said that every line worker needs to be stellar or heroic. However, you can’t hire just anybody to work in a plant and expect satisfactory results.

        “Again, that isn’t it. If they paid minimum wage, then they’d be spending more time hiring workers to replace those who quit than they would be building cars. ”

        This statement contrasts with what I’ve been told by HR managers at multiple modern, lean, highly-automated production facilities. In response to a direct question about pay rates and how they are determined, they have all said that it is a matter of paying enough to get the quality or labor that they require rather than preventing turnover. This is consistent with my own direct experience staffing manufacturing lines.

        I can’t speak to Henry Ford’s motives for raising pay, but everything I’ve seen from modern manufacturers indicates that they set their pay scales primarily to ensure a base level of worker quality.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “In response to a direct question about pay rates and how they are determined, they have all said that it is a matter of paying enough to get the quality or labor that they require”

        And that pay is at a level that is below the national average. Paying less than average would suggest that those demands are not particularly high.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        I submit that you need to compare that pay level to the average income of other people with the same education in the same area, rather than everybody in the country regardless of education or location.

        For example, how do the wages of entry-level workers at VW Chattanooga compare to the wages of other workers in the surrounding counties who do not have college degrees? I don’t know, but I suspect they are higher.

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        According to the Wall Street Journal, as of 2011, “Over the next three years, VW is expected to boost the average worker’s wage from $14.50 to $19.50″. (To clarify, I believe that the article may be inaccurate; I think that the starting wage is going to be $14.50, and that workers who stay for three years will have pay raises that get them to $19.50.) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704083904576335501132396440.html

        According to the BLS, as of May 2010, the average wage in Chattanooga was $18.39 per hour. Metal fabricators and fitters made about $19 per hour. Machinists were at $17.68 per hour. Similar trades are getting similar pay.

        http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_16860.htm#00-0000

        It sounds as if VW is being competitive, but not exceptional. Presumably, the advantage that VW offers to the worker is stability, not an exceptionally high wage rate.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Machinists and metal fabricators are skilled tradesmen, with educational and apprenticeship requirements above what’s required of a line worker.

        They’re also very often unionized, even in the South.

        Again, a better comparison would be to non-union unskilled manual laborers with high school diplomas.

        For example, from the BLS link you provided:
        Fast food cook: $8.27 an hour
        Groundskeeper: $10.41 an hour
        Cashier: $8.52 an hour
        Roofer: $12.92 an hour

        Is it your contention that the job of a VW worker “sucks” more than that of a fast food cook or roofer?

        Why do you think a VW worker starts out getting paid *significantly* more than the average for a fast food cook in the same area?

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “Is it your contention that the job of a VW worker “sucks” more than that of a fast food cook or roofer?”

        I thought that my presentation of factual data made it pretty obvious that auto workers at the VW plant are getting paid the sorts of wages that one would expect to be paid to people who work in industrial and manufacturing jobs, and who work around heavy machinery. Auto workers aren’t commanding some uniquely outrageous premium compared to others who do similar work or who have similar working conditions.

      • 0 avatar
        bikegoesbaa

        Why do you suppose it is that manufacturing workers make more than people in service or retail in the same area with the same education?

  • avatar
    Pch101

    “Why do you suppose it is that manufacturing workers make more than people in service or retail in the same area with the same education?”

    In part, because people who work in manufacturing are more likely to get hurt: http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/osh/os/ostb2801.txt

    • 0 avatar
      bikegoesbaa

      Good point, do you think there may be anything else contributing?

      Also, from what I can see manufacturing workers are far less likely to be *killed* at work than other manual labor jobs that generally pay less.

      Reference slide #19. Roofers are #6, manufacturing workers don’t make the top ten.
      http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshwc/cfoi/cfch0009.pdf

      • 0 avatar
        Pch101

        “do you think there may be anything else contributing?”

        A lot of construction work is done by folks who have questionable citizenship status. They can only negotiate for so much, as they have plenty of competition and can’t invite too much scrutiny.

        I doubt that an auto plant has too many workers with fake Social Security cards. Those workers are in the same pool as other manufacturing jobs.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Just a little input from a guy that spent 36+ years on the floor at GM Oshawa.

    I seen a guy’s leg get swallowed up to his knee in a conveyer…not pretty.

    The maintenance guys, and lots of others used to ride bikes in the plant. I saw an electrician on a bike tangle with a lift truck. He lived,but will never walk.

    I saw the after effect of a student stick a self tapping screw into her palm.We had to reverse the tool while she screamed.

    “Hog rings” [the things that hold seat covers to the seat frames} you have to see one of them buried in a workers thumb nail. Yeah a tough looking biker type,reduced to a cold sweat,gives new meaning to factory work.

    I could write forever…suffice to say “it ain’t for the faint of heart”

    Yeah….for sure I made big bucks, and earned every nickel of it.

    • 0 avatar
      gslippy

      Although I am opposed to many union practices, it is for the reasons you cite that unions exist – to ensure employers provide a reasonably safe work environment, and compensate appropriately for the hazards involved.

      Airline pilots can tell equally scary – albeit less graphic – stories of harrowing situations for which they are well-paid, thanks to union protection.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    What we have here is the end result of the closure of a large number of older plants over the last five years, in the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies and the Ford near death experience.

    I would not see the D3 adding any new plants unless this pace keeps up for another year.

    The next NA plant openings will probably come from Toyota and Nissan as they attempt to escape their slow motion garroting by the mysteriously high-flying yen.


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