Canadian Manufacturing

Re-launch of Jeep Cherokee SUV leads to $500M factory overhaul

Changes include new body shop, assembly lines; all part of $500-million overhaul of 12-year-old plant

TOLEDO, Ohio—Chrysler Group’s Toledo Assembly Complex has undergone a series of changes—worth a combined $500-million—as the automaker prepares to launch its all-new 2014 Jeep Cherokee SUV.

The 12-year-old assembly plant, previously home to the Jeep brand’s Liberty mid-size sport utility, saw its overhaul begin in August 2012 with the removal of the existing shop to make way for a new 252,000 sq. ft. addition.

According to Chrysler, the revamped body shop in Toledo has been standardized with the one recently built at its assembly plant in Belvidere, Ill., as the company looks to embrace the flexible assembly line approach in a bid to cut costs and boost efficiency.

The new Toledo shop now has the flexibility to build up to four different vehicle models on the same line, the automaker said.

The new body shop uses 963 robots and a standard equipment design for many of the welding and sealing processes developed jointly by Chrysler Group and FIAT.

Known as Basic Robot Integrated Configuration (BRIC), the new design reduces equipment installation time because the robots, equipment and associated electrical control panels are shipped as a complete unit.

The BRIC eliminates the need to disassemble equipment at the OEM and reassemble at the plant.

Chrysler said a welding or sealing station can be installed at the plant in approximately an hour, compared with several days in the past.

The dimensional differences of the new Cherokee compared to its predecessor also meant changes to the Toledo assembly line were necessary.

One significant change was the installation of a flexible decking line—a massive structure that uses pallets to move components during assembly, providing further flexibility to the plant.

According to Chrysler, the flex decking line operates on three levels.

On the lower level, the built-up front and rear suspension pallets are loaded by gantry robots on to a main pallet, which travels along the assembly line where all the additional components are assembled to complete the chassis.

Once complete, the chassis pallet enters an elevator to be transported to the second level where it is married to the body.

Robots automatically fasten the chassis to the body in two stations, making 24 connections.

Operators complete the motor mounts in the next three stations.

The Toledo plant is the first Chrysler assembly plant to implement a flex decking line and one of only four FIAT facilities to do so.

Another area that was jointly developed by Chrysler and FIAT is where the body is framed, called the Open Gate Framer.

Capable of building four different car models, the Open Gate Framer is comprised of 18 robots—eight on the floor and 10 hung from above—that weld the panels to the body.

The Chrysler Group also added a 25,000 sq. ft. metrology centre to the plant, where 30 employees are responsible for the measurement and validation of the vehicle’s body geometry.

The metrology centre includes state-of-the-art inspection equipment, like a Meisterbock gauge and white light laser scanners, that allow for the measurement and certification of both plant processes and incoming supplier parts.

The Toledo complex employs approximately 4,000 people.

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