By on July 24, 2012

 

Do you know West Point?

If you ask an automotive assembly plant designer, chances are the West Point he is thinking about won’t have statues of General MacArthur or cadets in full uniform.

It will be this place.

 

Nearly a million square feet loaded with over a billion dollars worth of assembly equipment. 360,000 cars a year. Three shifts. Three models. Over 3,000 employees with easily 15,000 more people getting indirect employment from the activities of this one complex.

When you enter the Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia Auto Plant (KMMG), you enter a colossus. Typically, a visitor will get a planned presentation in a side room near the lobby, a quick tour of the plant, and a token of remembrance that is similar to the gifts you get for becoming a valued member at an NPR or PBS telethon.

In my case it was a coffee mug with the word Kia emblazoned on it. A nice memento for a half day’s worth of sightseeing.

But other folks experience a lifetime’s worth of memories.

What about you?

Have you ever visited or worked at… an assembly plant?

 

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101 Comments on “Question Of The Day: Have You Ever Visited Or Worked At… An Assembly Plant?...”


  • avatar
    vikast

    I had the good fortune to tour Nissan’s Oppama plant in 1992. The factory was producing Nissan Bluebird / Nissan Altima at the time of our tour. The tour was part of a business school trip about Japanese production processes and we were able to see some of the lean production processes pioneered by Toyota at the Nissan plant. I remember being impressed by the cleanliness of the plant and the high degree of automation.

  • avatar
    A09

    I have visited TMMK about 10 years ago. Watching the front subframe module assembly (with engine/trans/steering systems) marry with the body was mesmerizing.

  • avatar
    TCragg

    I visited the Toyota plant in Georgetown, KY around about 1998. They were building the then-current Camry, Avalon, and Sienna at that time. Fascinating tour.

    When I was a UPS driver in Windsor, Ontario, I regularly delivered to two Chrysler assembly plants (plants 3 and 6). Plant 3 builds the RT minivans, and plant 6 built the full-sized Ram vans. As a courier driver, I made multiple stops at each facility. The tool crib at plant 3 was directly beside the assembly line, so I got a pretty good view of half-assembled NS vans as they rolled down the line. I did the industrial run from 1994-1996, so I also got to see the re-tooling process in the summer of 1995 as they prepared for the launch of the NS vans. Now I drive one of the vans manufactured there.

  • avatar
    tresmonos

    Yes, two GM (as a supplier), Spartanburg BMW (consulting for a friend doctoral cadidate paid with beer) and five Ford plants(one shutdown) in three different countries. Those are final assembly plants. Powertrain: one GM, two Ford.
    West Point is one impressive complex. I currently know a college friend working there and it sounds like a great place to work and grow in a career.

    I really do love my job.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    I visited the AMC Kenosha plant in 1974, as an 11-year-old. Later I visited the VW New Stanton plant which built Rabbits, around 1980.

    Both impressed me with their ‘rework’ areas at the end of the line, where imperfect vehicles were repaired before shipment, which I found troubling even as a kid.

    I’ve since spent a career (mechanical design engineer) in light manufacturing of various electronic industrial products, and can appreciate both the challenges of the line workers and the engineers tasked with setting up the lines. A well-run plant is a thing of beauty.

    • 0 avatar
      Pig_Iron

      I used to go to a whack load of them in my old career. Lot’s of crazy stories…

      One of my favorites is of the old Ford Lorain, OH assembly plant. One day I was sent out to investigate a complaint about an interference condition with the parts we supplied for the Econoline. (They built Cougars and T-birds there too). Off I went in my Sunday best, after a long exhausting drive, I spent the night in a greasy bin checking parts with a plug gauge. After 1,500 parts, it was obvious it wasn’t our issue.

      Near midnight, a receiving inspector took pity on me, and asked if I would like to have fresh deep fried Lake Erie perch. I was ravenous by then and eagerly accepted. I thought he would just open a styrofoam clam shell box from the local fish and chip shop. To my amazement he set-up a deep fryer on a desk in the receiving office and proceeded to batter and fry the fish. I think it was the best fish I’ve ever had. I will always be grateful for his act of kindness, and wish him the best now that that plant is just a memory.

  • avatar
    jeffzekas

    I worked at the Vetter Motorcycle Fairing plant in San Luis Obispo, before it shuttered forever. I learned a valuable lesson: just because a plant makes a profit, does NOT mean that the company won’t close it down. We were closed because, according to a boss, “We’re making a profit– We just don’t make ENOUGH profit– and the plant in Illinois needs the jobs and the money.” Also, I learned that WHO owns a company makes a BIG difference: when Craig Vetter owned the company, it was very pro-employee, and we (the workers) had a good relationship with management. When Craig sold the company, the new owners cared nothing for the “company culture” or about those who worked there.

    • 0 avatar
      pdog

      And I worked at any investment company that looked for “underperforming” companies like this with the hope of flipping them. It didn’t always work, but the basic idea was that outside management wouldn’t have emotional attachments to the workers (or responsibilities to the community) and would therefore be able to fire the higher-cost older, longer-term workers more easily. This would usually improve the balance sheet in the short term, but might come at the cost of community goodwill and institutional knowledge. No matter to them, since the company was then generally sold off in an IPO or to the next private equity group. Ruthless capitalism is lovely, ain’t it? I don’t miss that job, but the paycheck was nice.

      • 0 avatar
        schmitt trigger

        Some years ago, there was a movie with Danny Devito which was called -if I remember properly- Other People’s Money, which dealt precisely with this issue.

      • 0 avatar
        wumpus

        The point being that people will pay more for a smaller company with less profit than a big company with a larger profit.

        Go capitalism!

        Not sure if the above is true or not. It is believed enough by management to have plenty of jobs destroyed.

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        Yep, read up on Sensata in Illinois. Bain Capital is shipping a profitable company to China and laying off the workers b/c they are making profit, just not ENOUGH profit. And no I haven’t even mentioned Romney… ;)

  • avatar

    When I was seven years old in the early 1960s, a distant cousin visited Detroit from Israel. We took him to see the sights including the Ford Rouge complex tour. Yonah didn’t know any English, my parents didn’t know any Hebrew, and since by then I had attended a Hebrew day school for three years, I was pressed into service as a translator. I’ve been to the current Rouge Factory Tour, and it’s interesting, but it pales compared to the old tour – and it’s not just s 7 year old’s memories. The new “tour” is a walk on the catwalk that winds around the perimeter of Dearborn Truck, looking down on the factory floor. The old tour had you walking on the factory floor, right next to the assembly line. At Dearborn truck, the body drop is over on the other side of the plant, where the tour doesn’t go. At the old Rouge Plant tour you saw the actual body drop as you walked down the line. The most impressive part of the tour actually did involve a catwalk, at the steel mill (back when Ford still made their own steel at the Rouge). The new tour has a multimedia presentation with ersatz sparks – that can’t compare to watching a huge ladle pour out molten steel in a real steel mill. You walked the catwalk way above the mill floor, it was well over 100 degrees in there. No ersatz factory.

    Still, I’d urge visitors to Detroit to check out the current tour. There aren’t many car factory tours left (or factory tours in general) and it is fairly interesting. The tour is affiliated with The Henry Ford institutions and you can probably take in the factory tour and the Ford Museum’s car display in one day.

    If I was going to rank the new Rouge Factory Tour, using the old Rouge tour as a 10 and the fake chocolate factory at Hershey Park as a 0, I’d give it a 7.

    Pics and video I shot at the current Rouge Factory Tour:

    http://www.carsindepth.com/?p=615

    • 0 avatar
      Ishwa

      Your comment, “the fake chocolate factory at Hershey Park as a 0″ made me laugh! I remember as a young kid thinking of how obviously fake their simulated computer control room was with all of its flashing lights. The only cool part was getting a small chocolate bar at the end of the tour/ride and knowing that Hershey Park was next.

      Although, that tunnel with the heat lamps everywhere was pretty fun too. :p

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        The fake Hershey tour describes the Coca-Cola tour in Atlanta with the tiny bottling machine in one room. If I could have gotten my little Coke bottle and tasted Beverly without taking the tour I would have. Yeah, that sounds right. Check YouTube for Beverly taste tests.

    • 0 avatar
      50merc

      Ronnie, thanks so much for posting the Rouge tour pictures and video. For many years I’ve wanted to tour the complex and savor the historical and industrial significance. It’s truly a monument to man’s genius in conceiving, building and operating such an enormous facility.

      Oh, and I fully agree with the sentiment that it was foolish to rename the museum and Greenfield Village “The Henry Ford”. Old Henry must be spinning in his grave. (Or perhaps rotating on spit; he had some pretty nasty traits that tarnish his legacy.)

  • avatar
    Darkhorse

    I went to England as part of my school’s MBA program in the mid 1980s. Part of our curriculum was a tour of Jaguar’s assembly plant in Coventry. Being a car nut, I was beside myself with anticipation. While we were watching a filmed presentation, a Jaguar manager came out and announced that the assembly line employees had called a strike over some work rule violation and the tour was cancelled. I’ve hated unions ever since.

  • avatar
    Joe Oliphant

    I visited this place
    http://jcoconsulting.com/promos/milpitas.jpg

    last year. You would never know it was ever a factory of any kind these days. I was hoping for at least a line on the floor marking the last car that rolled off or something. All there is now is a glass partition with a Sunliner and a few other items way back in the corner of the place. Oh well, at least the burger at the Dave & Busters was pretty good.

    -Joe

  • avatar
    oldguy

    Toyota plant near Nagoya, early ’80′s; Amazing thing at the engine plant was 20R engines produced for different markets and emissions on the same line. Plant was bright, spotless, quality control huge part of process. Also visited Oakville Ontario Ford truck plant early 90′s, which was more of what I would imagine a “typical” factory experience.

  • avatar

    I visited GM’s Orion plant in the early 90s courtesy of a family member’s connections in EDS. Olds Ninety Eights and Caddy de Ville assembly at the time. The tour was just me, my father, and a single EDS employee, wandering the floor at our own pace.

    It was strange to see some things done via high-tech, automated techniques while some other steps were still very manual.

    For example, the tool to tighten lug nuts was auto-set to the correct torque specification based on the computer systems’ knowledge of the car & wheel choice.

    In contrast, the roof would be attached to the C-pillar with a carefully-filled weld ready for painting, or the seam would just be hammered down and covered if the Caddy got a vinyl roof. That decision was made by two employees squinting at the build printout taped to the front clip.

    We were amused to see an Olds that had been pulled aside for correction after assembly: one fender’s badging erroneously read “EIGHT NINETY.”

  • avatar
    Ron

    I’ve been to at least 20 assembly plants in the U.S., Canada, England, Germany, Brazil, Slovakia, and Japan. I’ve seen plants owned by GM, Ford, Chrysler, AMC, VW, Honda, Toyota, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Fiat.

    The worst was Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant. After Ford bought Jaguar, it is said that Sir John Egan took a Ford engineer through the plant. Afterwards, he proudly asked the engineer, “So, can you think of any way to improve it?” The engineer responded, “Yes, bomb it.”

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Gordon

      “The worst was Jaguar’s Browns Lane plant. After Ford bought Jaguar, it is said that Sir John Egan took a Ford engineer through the plant. Afterwards, he proudly asked the engineer, “So, can you think of any way to improve it?” The engineer responded, “Yes, bomb it.””

      Actually what this demonstrates more than the state of Brown’s Lane manufacturing site (although it is more likely refering to Radford) is that the Ford engineer in question (if it is true which I doubt)was either grossly ignorant or astonishingly insensitive. To put it in perspective it would be like a non New-Yorker being asked by the Mayor of New York how the Freedom Tower might be improved and responding with “by flying a plane into it”.

      Certainly in the mid 1980′s one would not have glibly mentioned bombing in Coventry at an official level without causing a furore. The utter devastation wrought on Coventry during WW2 remains evident and is a traumatic memory for many. You could probably get away with speaking lightly of it now such is the time past, but not 25 years ago.

  • avatar
    tiredoldmechanic

    I’ve visited several heavy truck assembly plants. At one time here in BC there were several in operation and I visited most of them at one time or another. Western Star trucks were built in my hometown for most of thier existence and I visited several times starting from my days as a cub scout to my last visit to see one of the trucks I had ordered come off the line. The trucks were not quite hand built but not far off when compared to a place like Navistar in Springfield Ohio. WS ran off maybe a dozen trucks a day, Springfield could do up to 400. Quite a difference in scale. The day I visited Springfield was a “slow” time, maybe 120 trucks were built that day. I was impressed by the friendliness of most of the crew, lot’s of people took a second to ask where we were from or say thanks for buying thier products.
    I wouldn’t want to work in one of those places though. The main assembly area looked like a huge penitentiary machine shop with bars on doors, exits alarmed and so on. By contrast, the cab fabrication building was brand new and spotless. The only problem was about 75% of the workforce that used to build cabs before the new automated system were now gone. Same with the massive parts warehouse which was sitting empty thanks to a computerized “just in time” inventory system.
    I left with a new respect for people who do work in these places, but I sure wouldn’t want to do it.

  • avatar
    Peter Reynolds

    I worked on the assembly line for 17 years at the NUMMI Toyota/GM plant in Fremont California. I never got tired of watching the cars and trucks getting built. There’s something about doing a simple repetitive job that is comforting.

    • 0 avatar

      Or mind numbing. I worked in a broaching shop running a manually loaded broach and my daily quota was 2,400 parts.

      • 0 avatar
        nrcote

        Worked in a Pepsi bottling plant during the summer while at university. Now work behind a desk in a windowless cubicle. Mind numbing? The bottling job or the desk job? Well, I don’t know… both?

    • 0 avatar
      sti2m3

      I worked at NUMMI too – although not on the floor.

      I miss watching the entire process of rolls of steel sheets becoming transformed into cars and trucks and hanging out with the Toyota coordinators as they explained every little nuance of why things are done the way they are…

  • avatar
    markholli

    In 2005 I visited Porsche’s assembly plant in Leipzig where, at the time, the Cayenne and Carrera GT were built. I suppose I shouldn’t say “built” when referring to the Cayenne; the Volkswagen-supplied body shells arrived here complete and were then “married” to the sub-assembly, including the engine, suspension, and wiring harnesses. This was the most disappointing part of the tour.

    On the other hand, the GT line was amazing to see. It was a stationary line where each car was lovingly hand-built by Porsche engineers. Well…maybe “lovingly” is not the best word; these are Germans after all. I still think the polished wood shift knob on these cars is one of the best interior details I’ve ever seen.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    I used to inspect car parts at suppliers plants and did some inspecting work at assembly plants. I saw some crazy stuff at Big 3 and Asian plants. Parts that had been dropped were put back on the line and were failed by the company. 1/8 inch O rings that needed inspected for nicks.
    One plant’s shipping area had a left side line for the left side parts and a right side line for right side parts. The QC criteria was: left side parts in boxes marked LEFT, right side parts in boxes marked RIGHT. They’d get so close to getting off QC hold and them mess it up. QC control was extended for another four months.

  • avatar
    Autobraz

    My most recent visit was the Cambridege, ON Toyota plant. Very impressive, specially the “godzillas” moving cars about. You can visit too: http://www.visitcambridgeontario.com/Tours-Toyota.php

    Not surprisingly, they were boasting about their low inventory levels in the factory. But surprisingly, it turns out they have dozens of suppliers trucks parked outside as emergency inventory (in case roads close due to snow for instance). So: lean on the inside, not so lean when you zoom out to the supply chain.

    • 0 avatar
      jetcal1

      Autobrazz,
      Lean is best practiced by those not involved in accounting.
      Our plant went lean via SAP. Came up short for a .37 cent
      bolt. Couldn’t pull the part from another ship set,
      Missed on-dock date to Boeing by one day, $5K
      penalty.

      • 0 avatar
        jhefner

        SAP implementation can be a nightmare at best, and bankrupt the company at worst. I heard of one front-to-back SAP implemenation that went bad; parts could not be shipped from the warehouse even though they were there because SAP said they did not exist; it ended up bankrupting the company.

  • avatar
    Littlecarrot

    The Skoda factory in Mlada Boleslav, Czech Republic. We jumped in on a prearranged factory tour with a group of MBA students from the US. The factory also makes engines for all the VAG cars. They have a wonderful museum too. After the tour we sat in on a discussion with the V.P. of marketing. I asked of they ever plan on coming to the US, and he stated that Skoda’s overall plan is heading eastward into China and India– no US or Canada !

  • avatar
    rpol35

    I toured GM’s Broening Highway Assembly plant in Baltimore in the Spring of 1969 & again in Spring 1971.

    The plant is now gone and it looked old & byzantine even back then. In 1969, Chevrolet was rolling SS396 Chevelles off of that line to beat the band and they got a hard workout on the floor/roller dynamometer. They were also building some LeMans & GTO’s on that line too but not too many, they were haphazardly interspersed.

    In 1971, I asked the tour guide if they built many SS454 Monte Carlos and he said he’d never heard of such a thing. About fifteen minutes later, one rolled down the line and I pointed it out to him. He was truly mystified.

    The tour made an indelible imprint on me. I have to imagine a modern assembly plant is not the least bit like this old warhorse from GM’s halcyon days.

  • avatar
    myleftfoot

    Visited the BMW 5 series plant in Dingolfing. We were treated to a tour of the whole assembly plant except the paint booth. There were massive sheet metal presses and at the end the cars drove off. We got to have a delicious lunch with roast meat, gravy and mushrooms in season. I never owned a bimmer but I recall my time there with fondness.

    • 0 avatar
      ckb

      I visited BMW in Munich. Hung around the Welt for about an hour waiting for my tour to start. Those were the best 8 euro I’ve ever spent. I could have stood on the factory’s catwalk for a week just watching the robots assemble the 3 series chassis. I’d seen plenty of factory shows on tv but nothing prepared me for the choreography of thousands of 3m tall robots moving in unison with sub millimeter accuracy. Truly an amazing and mesmerizing sight to behold.

      • 0 avatar
        golden2husky

        I visited that same plant in the early 1980s…very impressive for the day. All cars hit the rollers at the end of the line for a test. I asked the guide what happens when a car does not start? He said that almost always never happens. A minute later, a car was pushed into a separate room. Yep, a non starter. Pretty amazing stuff. Most of the tour was cherry picked, like the body guys doing a hand inspection and marking of body parts for work before painting. I guess this is marketing as well. Outside the plant was the bowl shaped museum and we did that as well. Inside was a 2002 strapped to the wall and on the floor was an M1, which was a big deal back then. The guide saw my interest and we began talking about it. A minute later he opened it up an let me sit inside…I was so psyched! I guess that’s what made me drink a few litres of beer in the hofbrau afterwards….

  • avatar

    I’ve only been to the BMW plant in Spartanburg, SC. It was, well, nice. Lots of human hands mixed in with robots. At the time they were assembling Z3′s and early X5′s made here. As a kid it wasn’t as fascinating as I expected but was a nice place to see. They had a lot full of employee lease cars there when I went. Wonder if they still do that.

  • avatar
    rporter

    My son and I toured the Morgan factory. 10 cars a day hand pushed from station to station. Fuel injected Rover v8s next to a guy with a saw and some wood. We could walk anywhere we wanted as long as we touched nothing and did not talk to the workers. That did not last long because they all very friendly and glad to talk about what they doing. Couple of obvious father and son teams. Smelled wonderful. 11 year old son very interested in the many new and old pinups on the walls. I quite taken by the receptionist. Very hot!

  • avatar
    cfclark

    I toured the Nissan plant in Smyrna, TN as part of a group in high school–this would have been in about 1985 or 1986, when the plant was nearly new. Sparkling clean, not as loud as you’d expect, and the workforce generally seemed happy. This was the first of several auto-assembly plants in TN, and at that point made only trucks. At one point, after several rounds of expansion, it was the largest single auto-manufacturing plant under one roof in North America; not sure if it is any longer.

    The factory tour I really want to undertake is Boeing in Everett, WA, but my recent business trip to Everett didn’t allow me any free time to do so.

  • avatar
    dulcamara

    I have two data points, very different.

    1) I worked for a couple summers at the Holley carb plant in Bowling Green KY while in college. The engineering it took to build tools/plans/lines to get complex aluminiium carburetors that acutally worked from the nuts who build them was amazing. No amount of drugs/booze/boredom/alienation/hostility could stop useful work from getting done. Nobody took much pride in this work; the atomsphere in the plant was far to inhuman for that, but I was amazed at the quality of inhuman engineering it took to make it a producive place. I was not amazed enough to become a lover of US manufactured cars.

    2) I visited the Porsche plan in Stuggart about 15 years later. In this case the workers took beer breaks while building 911s. None the less, I saw the light and had a 944s in my garage 6 months later.

    Because of (1) I studied hard in school because I did not want a career making carbs in BG KY. Because of (2) I am now afraid to visit a Porsche factory again.

  • avatar
    joeveto3

    I’ve been to the Corvette plant in Bowling Green a couple of times.

    I also went to the River Rouge plant to see Mustangs assembled. This was back in 2000 or so. I remember standing at the very end of the assembly line, with a bunch of Mustang owners. We all watched in horror as the guys who were in charge of pulling the Mustangs from the line were absolutely beating the crap out of the cars as they pulled them from the line. It was all spinning tires, doughnuts, slides, redlined engines. Really.

    I don’t know if the guys were showing off or that was just business as usual.

    I also visited the F-150 plant (maybe back in 2007?) and was astounded as I watched a guy talk on his cell phone as he worked the door assemblies. He was good enough to do a couple at a time, then he’d pick up his phone, say whatever needed to be said, and then go back at it. Brilliant.

    There is something really awesome about seeing cars and trucks come together and emerge from the line, soon to be someone’s new baby.

    I’d love to go to Germany to see a Porsche plant.

  • avatar
    Speed Spaniel

    I visited the BMW plant in Spartanburg, SC in October 2001. Unfortunately they closed the factory tour part of the Zentrum because of the 9/11 attacks (really??), so I never got the chance. I was in the area again last year, but the Zentrum isn’t open weekends. One of these days. I’m considering purchasing a C70 next year (if they are still being produced) and if I can swing a fair deal will do the overseas delivery program. A tour of the Gothenburg manufacturing facility is part of that agenda.

  • avatar
    galanwilliams

    There is an interesting account of a “secret” tour of Ford’s Twin Cities plant, which is primarily about the mining tunnels Ford used, but in Trip Log #4 actually enters the factory floor itself… I find it amazing how much Ford did for itself, given how much is outsourced today!

    http://www.actionsquad.org/ford.htm

    And on the the actually Twin Cities assembly plant:
    http://www.actionsquad.org/fordII2.html

  • avatar
    fincar1

    I toured a large old noisy plant in Detroit – I don’t remember which one, but they were building 1958 Imperials. I was 17 at the time, and took a couple of photos with my little box camera, until some guy came up to me and asked me to stop. It would be interesting to try to lay hands on those couple of photos now.

  • avatar
    brettc

    Went on a tour of the Navistar plant in Chatham, Ontario in about 1992 as part of my grade 10 geography class (I have no idea what heavy truck assembly had to do with geography.)

    I don’t remember much of the details of it, but I do remember it was pretty awesome at the time to see guys put giant trucks together. It’s all a distant memory now since Navistar closed the Chatham plant recently and moved production to the U.S.

    I’d love to take a tour of VW’s Chattanooga plant. I’ll have to check into doing that.

  • avatar
    Nick 2012

    Right out of college I worked in finance at Ford’s Cleveland Engine Plant #1 (CEP#1). As the name implies, CEP#1 was part of the powertrain division and, at the time, made the Duratec 30 RFF engine for the 500/Montego. Very interesting place for my first “real” job.

  • avatar
    jmo

    If I recall the timing correctly we landed in Frankfurt and went to the Frankfurt Motor Show. They we rented an A8 and drove to Munich for a tour of the BMW factory then Oktoberfest, then Porsche and Mercedes factories near Stuttgart. Very fond memories of that trip.

  • avatar
    MrGreenMan

    As a kid in the 80s and early 90s, I remember going through a large number of the GM plants in and around Flint. It always seemed a bit maudlin — the way of life going then. There was the Buick assembly — I think it was Buick City — where they put in the glass with robots, and the really expensive new robot had some problem with the color. I remember also the stamping plant, where they showed with “circle grid analysis” how the stamping distorted the metal.

    I remember what others have said — there was such an odd mish-mash of automated and manual tasks. One of the line guys explained that he put a ring on something — maybe it was the piston, I don’t know — and that GM didn’t have a robot faster than him, but when he retired out, it was going automated, too. I remember seeing the little play labs at GMI where they showed off the CAD-CAM machines almost like it was a county fair sideshow. I remember also seeing some sort of metalworking area, where it was just ungodly hot all the time.

    Later, I saw manufacturing for highly-specialized stuff, and it was nothing of the scale of the enormity of those GM Flint plants. Chip fabs were almost quaint by comparison.

    Edit: Oh, and the engine stress test room…that was cool. The SBC and the 3800 could live forever if fed and clothed properly.

  • avatar
    SteveMK2Rio

    TMMC twice and Honda in Ontario once. TMMC was great.

  • avatar
    indi500fan

    Quite a few over the years, the one I remember most was Lordstown in pre-Vega days.

    They build unibody/front subframe Firebirds and full frame Chevy B-bodies interspersed on the same line.

    GM Assembly Division – oh so many years ago…..

  • avatar
    Zackman

    I never had the pleasure of working in an assembly plant, but a friend worked at the Wentzville, MO plant in the latter 1970′s.

    When I was 12 or 13 years old, dad made arrangements to tour the Chevrolet St. Louis Assembly Plant on a Tuesday evening. Mom didn’t want to go, so dad and I had some time together. They built everything – cars, trucks and Corvettes! The tour included everything and all areas. We rode in trams connected like a passenger train w/o tracks. Simply fantastic. That was a multi-story plant and in the early 1960′s, America still worked right…a memory still deeply burned in my memory.

    You know, for being a working-poor family, mom and dad took advantage of those things like museums and plant tours and we never lacked for a thing.

    In 1975, my 1976 Chevy truck was built there and a neighbor down the street worked there and was on the lookout for it and he saw it come down the line one day and he put the finishing touches on it!

    Ironically, in the 1980′s, the first box company I worked for was across the street, down a side street and I watched its decline. Sad, sad, sad.

    BUT I do qualify for the GM Supplier Discount and will use it Thursday!

    As “Principal Dan” said a couple of weeks ago, my Chevy love indeed, runs deep…

  • avatar
    areader

    First plant visited was a Cummins engine plant in Columbus, IN in the mid 90′s. I was too dumb to call ahead and just ‘dropped in’. They were very nice, and I got a one-on-one tour of the testing facility. Very impressed with Cummins; I was driving a Cummins Dodge at the time.

    Next tour was the Toyota Georgetown plant about 2003 or so. Very impressive, but I could not wait to get out of that place. Hate to work there.

    Next was the Mercedes plant in Vance, AL. Not at all impressed as they had workers bending over, squatting, etc. which would eventually kill their knees and backs. This was shortly after the plant opened, and I assume (hope) they’ve put more attention to worker considerations since then. I think the plant has had a couple of upgrades. The M class was being built there. I remember one vehicle in which they had a hell of a time getting the instrument panel in. In another case, two guys were putting 4 bolts up through the frame into the body. Did their thing and then all 4 bolts fell out and hit the floor. On down the line to be fixed later.

    Last plant I was in was the Chevy Trailblazer plant in Moraine, OH a few years ago. The plant is of course closed now. I knew it was closing and paid attention to how many ‘feeder’ jobs were involved doing such things as making and bringing in head liners, tires and various parts. Plant closures are devastating to a community.

  • avatar
    Joss

    Yes earlier this century the Toyota plant in Cambridge, Ontario. It seemed to me (though it was only a 30 minute gowned & goggled golf cart train tour) that the primary function of employees was to keep the robots fed.

    Toyota are a little uncomfortable (apparently) on public tours. Drew my attention (and our tour guides) that everything was stamped from a miserably thin roll of carpet steel near the start of the line. And they charged how much for those luxury SUV’s?

  • avatar
    bkmurph

    When I lived in Chattanooga as a teenager, a friend and I used to visit/tour automobile factories in the southeastern U.S., usually with a parent to drive/supervise us. I’ve been to…

    Saturn plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. (then home to Vue and Ion)
    Nissan plant in Smyrna, Tenn.
    BMW plant in Spartanburg, S.C. (then home to Z4 and X5)
    Mercedes-Benz plant in Vance, Ala. (then home to M-Class)

    The Saturn tour was the most interesting, even though the Ion and Vue were far from class-leading vehicles. Our tour group was small, our tour guide was very friendly and enthusiastic, and the tour felt more like a tour and less like a presentation. We saw a lot on that tour, much more than on the BMW or M-B tours, which were relatively brief and more ‘scripted’. The Nissan tour was somewhere in between, I guess. If I still lived in the South or Midwest, I’d love to take some more tours.

  • avatar
    texan01

    i toured the Rouge Plant and watched them build F-150s and then toured the GM Arlington Plant and watched them build Yukahoes.

    The Rouge was clean and well lit, and very sanitized, the A-town plant was well a typical auto plant.

    Arlington, you were walking the floor, and could interact with the workers and see almost all of the assembly process.

    Rouge was pretty much final assembly of the interior and exterior trim, all from a catwalk overhead.

    I enjoyed both of them, but the Arlington plant stands out more because it seemed more “special” than the Ford plant, I guess because GM only runs a tour through there every 5 years or so.

  • avatar
    Gigidad1

    I was working for a supplier and we designed a manufacturing system for range of new Jaguar engines, right at the time Ford bought Jaguar. We made the presentation to Jaguar management, it went very well, but we were told that there was a hold on the project; Ford had stopped all Jaguar engine development. They were sure Ford would give them the OK soon. We laughed & told them Ford would certainly put Ford engines in their cars. The Jaguar guys were shocked and insisted their new engine designs were so good that Ford would never cancel them. And we know how that all turned out. Just for the sake of discussion, Jaguar had complete designs and some prototype parts for a full range of V6, V8 & V12 engines at the moment Ford took over and killed the effort. The plant itself was old, but we could have made it work great!

  • avatar
    th009

    My first factory visit was in the late 1960s … to the original VW factory in Wolfsburg, which was then still cranking out Beetles at a furious rate. Still very manual, and the tour took us on the factory floor next to the assembly line. An impressive tour for a little kid like me!

  • avatar
    Gannet

    I spent most of 10 years on the line at Wixom, painting Lincolns. I subbed on a few other jobs there, but it was mostly painting. Then I spent a year or so working at Ford’s Pilot Plant, which was down in Dearborn. That’s the place where they prove-out the tooling etc for next year’s models. Pretty interesting and very low workload.

    After a stint at college and a move up in the world to engineer at GM I got to see some of the pilot operations there, at the Tech Center. And I’ve been through Bowling Green a few times, the last time on a Buyer’s Tour. Oh, and I took the tour at the Wixom Performance Engine “plant”, or whatever they call it. We were able to meet the guy that built our engine, very cool.

    I find manufacturing fascinating, and a very worthwhile way to spend your work day. You get to the end of the day, you know you did something.

  • avatar
    pdog

    Toured Alfa’s Arese factory back in the 90s, when it was still making cars. I don’t remember much from the manufacturing side of things, but the attached museum was phenomenal. I believe it was free at the time, and although it was set up for tourism (it did, after all, contain a museum), they still seemed surprised that any Americans would be interested. I recall it being somewhat hard to find, as well.

    More recently I took in the Mercedes museum in Stuttgart. Also some phenomenal cars (not as beautiful as Alfa though, IMHO) although definitely not free admission. We also didn’t see the factory side. It was interesting to see the sheer information overload (4-5 audio channels at each display, and there were tons of displays) and also to see how much more pedestrian Mercedes have gotten in recent years.

  • avatar
    st1100boy

    No car plant tours for me, yet. But I might try to take in the Toyota Tundra plant in Princeton, IN one of these days.

    But I have had a chance to check out the big Harley-Davidson plant in York, PA around 2008. Sort of a two line plant: in the newer, well lit side was Softail production. The line didn’t seem to be moving all that rapidly. The one thing that caught my eye was use of bright yellow plastic covers to protect the tanks and fenders as the bikes moved down the line.

    The other side of the plant was for the touring bikes (Electra Glides, Road Kings, etc). This line seemed to be moving faster, but it was in a much older, more primitive looking facility with much poorer lighting. Three noteworthy observations: 1. Huge boxes full of Brembo calipers straight from Italy. 2. The bikes moving around on a conveyor of some sort, hung from above. 3. Seeing a worker inserting rear axles while seated on what looked like an office chair with rollers but with the back removed. He was kicking a few of the uncooperative axles into place. Interesting technique.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      I worked on a machine project that installed/tested the fuel pumps on one of the Harleys a few years back. When the old timers want to wave the American flag at me about their “All-American” Harley motorcycle I just have to chuckle. The plastic gas tanks came from Taiwan. The brakes from Italy. The ignition from Italy.

  • avatar
    pb35

    When my wife got into grad school at Michigan, I was ready to leave my job at a defense contractor on Long Island (my job was about to disappear) and fulfill my lifelong dream of getting a job for one of the big 3.

    After 3 months, I got the chance of a lifetime. I landed a field service gig with a DC electric tool manufacturer and instead of having to grind it out in a plant or at a desk, I got to visit them all (or so it seemed).

    Ford Romeo, Van Dyke, Wayne Assy, Wixom, Rawsonville, Saline, Sandusky, I went to them all. Chrysler SHAP, Trenton Engine, I walked the line at New Mack Assy where the Viper was built (before it moved) every Monday morning at 6AM just because it was a high profile install. Sweating it out in the pit at Belvedere. Let’s not forget all of the GM plants, Flint V8, Buick 36, Willow Run. All of our network equipment was in a catwalk at V8, I sweat 20 lbs. off up there. I’m surprised I remember so many. I set up our equipment at BMW in SC before it went online. Running to the local Grainger because the sales coordinators didn’t send any hardware down. Saw the Z3 before it was released. Such a great job, the automakers were on fire in the 90′s and I couldn’t work enough hours in a day. I hated it so much at the time but have nothing but fond memories and enough stories to fill a book.

  • avatar
    st1100boy

    Almost forgot: About 10 years ago I had a chance to check out the Boeing plant in Long Beach that was, and still is, assembling C-17s.

    Once the fuselage was far enough along to have landing gear attached, I understand it was slowly pulled thru the huge hangar type assembly building. And I mean slowly, as in not visibly moving. People hopped off and on the bird as if it were not moving, and it might as well have been stationary.

    I really liked seeing how the bird was built out of a series of structural members then had aluminum skin stretched over them and riveted on. A series of jigs made the various sections. Very cool and not something I ever saw in an Air Force maintenance facility.

    The aircraft further along were swarmed by surprisingly large number of personnel, most of whom seemed to be engaged stringing wiring, hydraulic lines, etc.

    The number of people struck me. A lot more than I might have expected. I learned that day that aircraft really are handbuilt.

  • avatar
    nrcote

    Toured the GM plant in Sainte-Thérèse, Québec (north of Montréal), twice.

    First in ’76 or so, when they were building the Chevy Monza. Don’t remember much, except the end of the line: a few cars were parked aside and mechanics were working on them. Brand new cars with zero miles, in need of repairs. Left a strange feeling.

    A second time, in ’88 or ’89, when they were building the Olds Cutlass Ciera. That wasn’t a regular tour. Our “guide” was an engineer at the plant and the boyfriend of a friend. Much better. We literally crossed the line a few times and we also spoke with the workers. I still remember a black four-door Cutlass Ciera with thin white stripes and black leather interior. Gosh, it was so nice.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    Toured the Corvette plant in Bowling Green in 97 or 98, just as the C5 was rolling out. Also toured the Toyota Georgetown plant on the same trip (still have the magnet “I toured Toyota! Home of the Camry and all new Sienna”.) I know Bowling Green is assembly, that Corvette is special and that Toyota manufactured lots of stuff at Georgetown as well as vehicle assembly.

    But the atmosphere in the plants couldn’t have been more different. I remember one spot on the Corvette line that said “Don’t feed the bears”, referring obviously to how the workers felt about the tour groups. Bowling Green wasn’t as clean and there was quite a bit of waste parts laying around. Both places were fascinating though, especially the scale of the Toyota operation. The Corvette tour was a walking tour, Toyota loaded you up with coats and goggles onto a tram and drove you around. No way could you walk the Toyota tour due to the size of the place.

    Have also taken the Dearborn Truck Assembly tour twice( and highly recommend you should if you’re at the Henry Ford museum). These might be well paying jobs, but assembly line work has to be tough. Sure, most of the workers were dressed in regular clothes and it was clean and climate controlled. But doing the Same EXACT thing, day in, day out, hour by hour, minute by minute until the shift ends has to be tough.

    Seeing this tour twice and reading the book “Rivethead” by Ben Hamper confirmed it( a worthy read). Most of us do very close to the same thing day after day, not the EXACT SAME THING every minute of every day we punch the clock. I wouldn’t want to trade places with those folks.

    Still, watching things come together is fascinating to me, love the “How It’s Made” and “How do they do it?” series on TV.

    • 0 avatar
      markholli

      I love How It’s Made! Don’t ask me why, but I swear that show has therapeutic properties. It calms the nerves.

      • 0 avatar
        brettc

        It’s Brooks T Moore’s voice. I can’t stand the Zac Fine episodes. But Brooks has a very soothing voice. Plus the music is awesome as well.

      • 0 avatar
        flameded

        “I love How It’s Made!”

        +1 Good show. I just wish it didn’t go so quickly, or that they spent more time on each item. There’s just so much more that they could show about the topics.
        JMO..

      • 0 avatar
        joeaverage

        “…but I swear that show has therapeutic properties.”

        You too? I agree!

        Just finished all the episodes available on Netflix this weekend. My visiting friend was really impressed with the show. Had never watched it.

  • avatar
    oldyak

    visited Rouge in 1969…
    Watched Boss 429`s and Cougar Eliminators come off the line.
    Also watched the steel being melted,rolled,formed and stamped.
    Once in a lifetime experience!!!
    Thanks Ford!

  • avatar
    Lightspeed

    I worked at a GM parts warehouse. A decent employer, but utterly numbing, mind-destroying work. I got out, others were convinced they had found heaven on earth.

  • avatar
    silverkris

    In the early 1980′s toured the Nissan Oppama plant (I think) when I was studying Japanese at International Christian Unversity in Mitaka, west of central Tokyo. They were building Micra/March models, some were LHD, some were RHD, on the same assembly line. Figured the RHD models with the speedos in MPH were for the UK. The souvenir we got was a tape measure with Nissan’s first model in the 1930s on the outside. The funniest thing or irony was that the tape measure was made in the USA – no kidding! I still have that tape measure today

    In 1992, as part of my MBA class study tour to Japan, went to visit Toyota’s factory tour. The plant wasn’t all that new or totally automated, but it was very impressive – they were producing Crown sedans and Lexus LS400s (or Celsiors in the JDM guise). Next door was a museum with all the cool Toyota models, including a specially-fitted vehicle for disabled passengers (shades of Mobility Works over here).

    Unfortunately, I did not get to visit the NUMMI plant in Fremont, CA, which is near where I live, before it closed.

  • avatar
    Athos Nobile

    Worked for a commercial vehicle plant assembling light, medium and heavy trucks. Heavy trucks are awesome in their own way, like glowing red exhaust manifold/turbo assembly awesome.

    Then went to work in the opening of a new site. From humble process sheet translator to start the site’s engineering dept. Best experience EVER. With that people I saw a high volume site for the first time, in Iran no less. Watching how a big steel roll becomes a pile of panels, then a body, then a finished car and at that speed was a revelation. You can then include the robots and all the eye candy you want. Visited also some suppliers and saw how a soft touch dash is made.

    I am still working in the industry. And as 3 monos said, I just love this stuff. I use to say that I have never stopped playing with cars, they just became bigger.

  • avatar
    55_wrench

    Before Tesla was NUMMI.
    Before NUMMI was GM.
    I was there in 1964 as a 4th grader on a field trip and was utterly amazed how the Chevelles, Skylarks and other intermediates came to life there.
    At the end of the tour, every kid got a thank-you card. Inside was a genuine GM key blank, ready for us to get copied the day we bought our first GM car. Great marketing idea. I don’t know if I was subliminally affected but I have owned far and away more GM cars than any other.

    Old tooling lives on. One of my managers in the last company I worked for grew up in Michigan. His father’s last project before retirement was setting up a new line of stamping presses for the ’93 model year at a GM plant there. They have been moved to Fremont and are now stamping panels for the Model S sedan.

    I had a relative who worked there in the mid -60′s who complained about having only 1.5 minutes to load a wiring harness into a vehicle. Not sure how much he made per hour, but with the benefits I’m sure it was a good deal. He always had an alcohol problem, and it got him at age 37. It was probably the best job he could have had.

  • avatar
    Bent07

    I currently work at Honda of Canada Manufacturing in Alliston,Ontario. i started in 2008 but was let go in 2009 and re-hired in 2010

  • avatar
    dasko

    I was a quality inspector at a Ford supplier in Oakville, Ontario.

  • avatar
    F_Porsche

    Quite a few for my young age.

    BMW Regensburg and Leipzig, Porsche Leipzig, Mercedes Sindelfingen, Untertürkheim (engines) and Wörth (trucks). And I worked at the Daimler Hamburg plant one summer to assemble the shifting gate for the automatic transmission.

  • avatar
    doctor olds

    I hung rear shocks on 1970 Tornados in its dedicated plant in Lansing for a brief stint during a 6 week co-op session and had lots of assignments in and around the Oldsmobile and Lansing car assembly, engine, rear axle, forge, and stamping plants. I have worked on engineering quality issues at:
    Arlington, TX (Olds V8 Cadillacs, B Wagons)
    Lakewood (Atlanta),GA(Olds V8 B Wagons)
    Linden, NJ (Beretta GTZ HO Quad 4)
    Lordstown, OH (Cavalier/Sunfire)
    Oklahoma City, OK (
    Tarrytown, NY (U-Vans: Olds Silhouette badged as a Pontiac
    Wilmington, DE (Corsica / Beretta )
    Wixom Performance Engine Build Center, MI (LS7/SC Northstar)

    And have visited or toured:
    Lansing Delta Township, MI (Enclave/Acadia/Traverse)
    Orion Township, MI (Olds & Buicks in the ’80′s, Sonic, Verano today)
    Detroit Hamtramck, MI (Olds,Buicks,Cadillacs in the ’80′s)
    Ford Rouge plant, MI

    Some of the Olds plants still used buildings built in the teens when I started there in ’69, and the LDT Plant is one of the most advanced plants in the world.

    Amazing changes over a 40 year time span!

  • avatar

    I’ve worked at several. While they are all basically the same idea, they all truly have their own individual character.

    I used to provide manufacturing techinical support (vehicle diagnostics and root-cause-analysis) in the vehicle testing and reprocess areas for Chrysler. I’ll have to admit it was a great job that I loved doing until the crash of 2008. It’s a job I would love to do again, if given the chance.

  • avatar
    Trend-Shifter

    I have visited many automotive assembly plants and suppliers in the US, Canada, and China. Each time I felt like a kid at Disneyland. That is of course unless there was a problem!

    My father worked at Fords when I was a youngster. They had a program called “Ford Day Camp” for the employee’s children. I regularly got to go on daily excursions where they took you on factory tours, swimming, movies at the Rotunda (movies of Ford GT’s winning 1,2,3 !) and to Greenfield Village. So as a youngster I was able to see the the Ford Rouge steel plant, glass plant, and the auto assembly plants. Good times and it sure influenced my future career choices.

  • avatar
    crbf1

    I’ve had the good fortune to tour several:
    Jaguar @ Brown’s Lane (Coventry) and Castle Bromwich; Land Rover @ Solihull; Aston Martin @ Gaydon and Newport Pagnell; Ford @ Rouge.
    Rouge was fascinating — one F150 per minute. Compare to Aston production at Newport Pagnell (last year of Vanquish S) which was 6 per week….

  • avatar
    ezs

    As I work for an OEM supplier, I visited assembly lines in VW Anchieta, VW Curitiba, MAN Resende, GM São Caetano, Ford Camaçari in Brazil and last January I was in Detroit and visited Ford F-150 Plant and Chrysler Engineer building and Prototype assembly line.

    At,

    Evandro

  • avatar
    cdotson

    I’ve visited two automotive assembly plants, the Corvette plant in Bowling Green and GM’s Baltimore plant. In KY I think I was there either the last year of the C4 or the first year of the C5 as it was long enough ago I don’t remember. They had just completed the 1 millionth Corvette just a year or so prior to my visit there as it was in the museum, also the current museum was almost brand-spanking new and was awesome to visit compared to the strip-mall storefront the prior museum had been (missed the plant tour the year before I took it due to family emergency).

    When I went through Baltimore it must have been 1996 and they were making tons of Astros and Safaris, but even by then they were mostly an outdated joke used primarily as commercial vehicles.

    I’ve also worked at a facility that was the company’s only manufacturing site for golf cars and off-road utility vehicles and did get to spend some time working on the lines.

  • avatar
    threeer

    Toured the MB plant where the E-class is assembled near Stuttgart…the most amazing thing was to turn into the parking lot where completed cars are staged and saw acres and acres of shiny, new Mercedes. Just wish I could have taken one home.
    Spent WAY too much time at the Kenosha engine assembly plant working on engine sealing issues…ugh.
    Vividly recall the “end of line quality inspection” for the Ford Tempo/Mercury Topaz out in KC. One car came down the line with the hood slighly out of alignment when it closed. Solution? Take a big-a$$ hammer and smack the living heck out of the hood latch. Problem solved.
    Once watched four (yes, four) assembly workers install the fuel filler door for the Chevy S-10. One to mount, two separate workers to tighten the screws, one to close the door. Yep…

  • avatar
    dejal1

    Back in 73 or 74 visited the GM Framingham Mass plant. I think mid size Cutlasses were coming down the line. My city has 2 High Schools, regular and Vocational. It was a Voc trip and for some reason they couldn’t fill it up, so for some reason I was asked if I wanted to go, even though I didn’t go to Voc.
    Who wouldn’t want to get a day off from school and visit something cool.
    Enjoyed it very much.

    I particularly remember the end of the line where they’d test the car. The car would be driven onto rollers, and steel plates would pop up on all 4 sides. I think there was a big dial above the car showing how “fast” the wheels were turning.

    GM closed the plant in 89.

  • avatar
    timlange

    I visited the Corvette plant in Bowling Green, KY in 2006. Tours were walking tours with about a dozen people in the group. Main thing I remember is they would select one person from a group to start a car for the first time. A twelve year old girl got to cross the line, get in, and start ‘our’ car. Major big smiles all around!

  • avatar
    mcs

    In addition to a Rouge Plant tour as a kid, my automation and robotics expertise allowed me to spend a lot of quality time in several GM plants – even the opportunity to explore the nooks and crannies of a couple of them. The plants include:
    Oklahoma City, Arlington TX, Fremont (pre-NUMMI), Janesville, Doraville, GA, and Tarrytown, NY.

    I think I knew OK City the best – saw it built and the layout was so clean with great lighting. I think I remember most of the details. Great people too – I especially remember the blonde Atlanta transplant that worked as maintenance dispatcher.

    I remember Tarrytown as a bit of a hell hole – I think tables and benches in the break room were actually bolted to the floor (if my memory is correct). In Janesville, I remember the old wooden floors in some locations.

    I may be getting back into the plants soon. One large auto manufacturer is showing interest in my current research. It would be great to get involved again.

  • avatar
    geozinger

    I grew up in the shadow of Lordstown, toured there back in the mid-70′s when they were still assembling Vegas and I was still in middle school. Into the 80′s friends of mine worked there, we were able to get in an unofficial capacity to check out the factory, still great memories to this day. Additionally saw what was one of the Delphi plants in Warren Ohio, was called Packard Electric back then. They made the wiring harnesses, well for everybody. Still have relatives who work for Packard, but not at the Warren location, which has since closed. Also went through the BMW factory tour in the late 70′s, which was a world of difference from Lordstown.

    I myself worked for a Tier 1 supplier (in their marketing department) and saw a couple of customer plants from the inside, but not full blown tours… Heard some very colorful stories from loading dock workers & etc. Made for great stories on the ride/flight home…

    While I’ve never worked on the line, I know a number of people who have; I don’t think I’d trade my desk job with them. A lot of things have changed since the ‘halcyon’ days 30-40 years ago.

    EDIT: I forgot to add that I’d had a back door ‘tour’ of the Ford Atlanta plant when they were building Tauruseseseses back in the early 90′s.

  • avatar
    Pikes

    I toured a number of Ford’s Canadian plants when I was working as an auditor in the mid 1980′s.

    The Oakville Assembly Plant was making the Tempo/Topaz at the time. The operation was fascinating, but I recall the plant as being quite dark and dirty – I specifically remember large sections of the original wooden block floor were disintegrating.

    The Ontario Truck plant was building F-series pickups. I do remember being there during a bit of a celebration over the Job 1 for the 1987 model year (I think the front end was re-designed)

    The Niagara Glass plant was the most interesting (or at least the plant manager was considerably more relaxed about us wandering around the place). The fun part here really had little to do with watching the process, which involved lots of very hot ovens, but weighing and counting the bars of silver in the vault. (used in window defrosters)

    The St. Thomas Assembly plant was making Crown Vics. This plant was very clean and bright. The thing I remember most was a conversation with the plant manager. The plant had a bit of a “shrinkage” problem, particularly with radios. However, one year the losses pretty much stopped. As an auditor, I was always interested in improvements in controls, and asked the manager if improved security had reduced the losses. His response? “Nope. Everyone’s got one”.

    I also financed a couple of years of university working as an inspector at Kelsey Hayes. If you owned a 1983/84 GM A Body and your wheels weren’t round, I’m sorry.

    • 0 avatar
      el scotto

      I was honored to meet Mr. Kelsey. My mom worked for his son. It was great to talk cars with him and hear stories and see him as a dad/grandpa. I think 100 years ago Detroit was like Silicon Valley today.

  • avatar
    Jonathan H.

    I’m a project manager for a construction company and 95% of our work comes from Toyota and I work out of our office at the plant in Georgetown, KY. So I’ve spent a ridiculous amount of time at the plant here as well as the plant in Huntsville, Al and the Subaru plant in Indiana. It’s really interesting work and the major model changes are always fun. Especially when the Camry Hybrid was introduced. We built and installed a lot of new hybrid-specific equipment that was required to build the car. It’s amazing how thousands of people working in 8 million square feet of floorspace can be that efficient. The guided tour they offer is very good and informative.

    I toured the Vette plant as well and at the time was quite a bit behind Toyota as far as efficiency goes.

  • avatar
    onyxtape

    Visited the Ford plant in Dearborn in 2001 after a job interview there (a 4-day grueling interview). They told me that the bumpers on the Explorer behind the tour guide could be +/- 5% in length from one bumper to another. Wow.

  • avatar
    redmondjp

    I’ve had the opportunity to work in or visit the following assembly plants (wow, first time I have ever made a list):

    - Freightliner, Swan Island (Portland, OR)
    - Freightliner, Statesville, NC
    - Kenworth, Renton, WA and Chillocothe, OH (I worked for KW for a time)
    - GM Arlington, TX, in 1984 when they were still making cars (1K a day)
    - GM Bowling Green, KY in 1984 right at the very beginning of C4 build
    - GM Wentzville, MO in 1986 producing the new FWD C and H bodies
    - GM Truck assembly in St. Louis, MO in 1986 right before it closed
    - Cummins engine, Columbus, IN
    - Caterpillar engine, Mossville, IL
    - Delco Electronics, Kokomo, IN (worked there as a GMI Co-op student)
    - Ford River Rouge steel plant and engine assembly in 1998

    I’ll share a few memories from visiting the Chevy Truck plant in St. Louis, when they were building the 2nd-to-last year of the ’73-’87 series before the new truck plant opened in Ft. Wayne, IN. This was an ancient plant (where the Corvette was once built), with cabs assembled on the 2nd floor, and body drop was through a hole in the floor using (I do not kid) a large hemp rope and a wooden block & tackle, just like they would have done it in the 1930s. I remember seeing a few workers curled up sleeping between pallets of parts.

    We got to go onto the roof over a single-story section of the plant where they had doors, hoods and fenders leaned up against the outside wall where they were touching up the paint, outside. No joke. And this was in 1986. I had a much greater understanding of GM quality after this visit (my grandfather bought a new 1973 C20 that was probably built in the same plant and my dad still has it).

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    I work for a Tier 1 supplier for Caterpillar. Their assembly process is similar to the automakers, but at a slower and monumental scale.

    The most impressive plant is the Decatur, Ill, where they assemble those humongously-large mining trucks. The 797 in particular, one has to watch it in person to comprehend its colossal scale.

  • avatar
    tim850csi

    I had the amazing fortune to spend the summer between high school and college in Germany. I was able to tour VW Wolfsburg (amazingly huge) and Mercedes Sindelfingen. Sadly the Porsche factory was closed for summer holiday.

    Coincidentally my host for the summer now has a job working as a mathematical computer sciences engineer for VW in advanced propulsion. He is a tad smarter than I.

  • avatar
    Mullholland

    Mazda plant in Hiroshima Japan, in the mid ’80s.
    At the time this sprawling, old facility was Mazda’s only production facility in the world. Just getting to the assembly areas involved driving through what seemed like a good sized suburb of the city. I remember the old buildings and narrow streets with finished cars parked everywhere.
    Also toured Mazda’s first plant other than Hiroshima in Tofu, build specifically for 626 production. Very modern facility.
    Late ’80s included a grand opening tour of the Mazda/Ford manufacturing plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. All of the latest innovations in a newly built facility.
    Just two years ago, I was part of a crew that shot film inside of Hyundai’s plant just north of Montgomery Alabama. A huge, very spacious and highly automated plant. Got to see and film the entire process: from steel in rolls, to stamping, to paint, to final assembly and test. Very nice people, committed to building very good vehicles.

  • avatar
    econobiker

    I worked with a tier one supplier to the heavy truck oem’s and got into many of the plants (and/or hq’s) in some form or fashion.
    Freightliner,Portland, OR
    Freightliner, Statesville, NC
    Kenworth, Renton, WA
    Kenworth, (KenMex) Mexicali Baja Mexico
    Peterbilt, Denton TX
    Peterbilt, Madison, TN (R.I.P-closed down)
    Was into Freightliner HQ in OR, Volvo HQ in VA, and International Truck Engineering in Fort Wayne.

    Of note:

    - visiting the Kenworth Renton factory about one month before serial killer Gary Ridgeway was arrested. He was apparently a long term 2nd shift paint booth employee who did tape off for custom stripe and multi-color cab paint jobs. (So millions of people may have seen his ~artwork~ in a round-a-bout way via the Kenworth trucks on the road prior to 2002.) Luckily 2nd shift was not running on the Friday we toured as I remember we (myself, the company sales guy, and a Kenworth HQ engineer) were kicked out of the facility as 1st shift shut down…

    - being on the line at Peterbilt Denton when the redesigned part, which my company had made, was swapped over from the previous part design after having been involved in over one year long process to achieve this redesign (new process and material for a commodity part).

    - going to Peterbilt Madison during one of the strikes and the supervisors building (or trying to build) some ultra low volume of trucks per day.

    -at International Truck Engineering in Fort Wayne, IN, myself and the sales guy were treated to a wintery cold but very interesting walk around the storage lot behind the facility by an older engineer who mostly wanted to smoke a couple of cigarettes. We saw an advanced design of a tractor for what would later become the Lone Star tractor. This unit was hidden back in among the test trailers. We had to actually come back inside since it started to snow.

    - at Freightliner Swan Island we saw the mainline and then the special builds. An 8 wheel drive (4 front and 4 back wheels) oil field truck had a straight, triple laminated frame about 50′ long , the wheels and tires were 6′ tall, and it was equipped with Euro/Gulf country market signage / lighting. The front bumper was at head height for 6′ tall person. Surely enough room in the desert to turn that monster around! Also saw some US military 6×6 trucks being built there and it struck me that the camouflage patterns were all the same from the factory.

    That’s all that I can speak of right now…

  • avatar
    punkybrewstershubby aka Troy D.

    I spent the summer of 1995 doing subcontracting physical plant inspections for Jacobs Engineering for GM. Spent a lot of time on the roofs of many plants including Lansing 1 and Lansing 6, Orion, Bay City and Flint.

    I also spent two weeks at GM Powertrain in Livonia. Loved watching those Northstars go together.


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