Canadian Manufacturing

Driving Quality

March 31, 2009  by Jack Kohane

Though it’s an era of upheaval for automakers, building quality into every vehicle never takes a back seat to market vagaries. The quality priority is particularly evident at the General Motors car assembly plant in Oshawa, east of Toronto.

Measured as much by its slogan, “To Be the Best Vehicle Manufacturing Facility Worldwide,” as by its sheer size—over 8.5 million sq ft of factory floor staffed by over 4,600 hourly employees and about 340 salaried employees—this facility exemplifies the company’s leadership role crafting many of the world’s most coveted car nameplates.

“The emphasis on safety and quality begins with understanding what our customers want and need from their vehicle—and then delivDan Derlis, quality director for the Oshawa Car Plant. ering above and beyond those expectations,” says Dan Derlis, quality director for the Oshawa Car Plant. “Our proactive approach works to solve problems before the customer takes delivery of their new car.”

GM’s Oshawa Car Plant, which currently builds the Chevrolet Impala and the highly anticipated and iconic muscle car, the Chevrolet Camaro (coupe and convertible models to be launched later this year), was recently presented with the prestigious J.D. Power and Associates “Founder’s Award” in recognition of the company’s commitment to quality. The plant also won the J.D. Power (a global marketing information services firm) Gold Award for initial quality in 2006, 2005, 2003, and 2002. The current version of the Impala is the top selling American nameplate sedan, according to Reuters 2008 Top 20 Best-Selling Vehicles Scorecard. And GM has confirmed three new product mandates for Oshawa Car, including a hybrid variant in 2011.


At the heart of the company’s quality pledge is its ‘GM GMS – General Motors Global Manufacturing System,’ a compilation of best practices and lean manufacturing.

“GMS is a set of standards which describe the what, why and how to organize our manufacturing operations to eliminate waste,” Derlis points out. “Within GMS, waste is defined as ‘anything that our customers are not willing to pay for.’ Elimination of waste is the only way to survive as a company.”

The structure of GMS is organized around five principles: People Involvement, Standardization, Built-in Quality, Short Lead Time and Continuous Improvement.

Underpinning the production process at GM Oshawa is its 10-stage Quality Gates program. These gates (or inspection stations) are a system that requires checks-and-balance review of products at critical stages of their development by senior management. Checkpoint inspectors have the authority to shut down the assembly line, at any point, to fix any quality problem they find. Inspectors activate a quality Andon system, combining an illuminated overhead display board and audible tune that draws immediate attention, allowing management to quickly identify the work zone and concentrate their resources on supporting the assembly point that may have a problem.

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