Phase Five

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2002-11-01 Print this article Print

Milestones along General Motors' route to becoming the first all-digital automaker.

Phase Five
Months 7 to 24: Deployment planning
Data Added: Manufacturing plant layout data, tool and die specs, process simulations, ergonomic testing
Storage Requirement: 1.3 terabytes

In Pontiac, Mich., a 20-minute ride up Interstate 75 from Warren, engineers are walking through the assembly of a prototype mid-duty GMC truck designed to meet the specifications of Coca-Cola Bottling. Two United Auto Workers members are fastening components onto the frame of the truck, when the assembly line is stopped. One worker can't attach a required fastener with the frame in its current position. The frame will have to be flipped to make the process work.

Fortunately, that's just a drag-and-drop away. This isn't an actual build-run, but another "video game"—a simulation at GM's Pontiac truck design facility. The UAW members, Ruth and Larry, are actually ergonomic models developed with the help of the UAW for manufacturing simulations like this one, to avoid the cost of expensive changes in the manufacturing process late in product development. Do you need a rivet gun to drop down from the ceiling on a tether? The program will tell you. "It's still math—the models of humans are basically script programs," says development engineer Hamill.

Virtual autoworkers have certain advantages. Nick Andreou, vice president in charge of GM Engineering's collaboration strategy, recalls the work on a recent GM sport utility vehicle. Designers had specified wider wheels. But, in the simulations of the manufacturing process, a particular problem was discovered. "The bigger wheels of the vehicle rolled over the toes of the worker, pinching them off," he says. Since the worker was simulated, no actual loss of limbs was required to discover the problem.

Until recently, managing the layout of assembly lines was a low-tech operation, Gutmann says. "In product development, we went from one electronic process to another. In manufacturing engineering, we're moving to an electronic process from a paper one."

To that end, GM has been creating a suite of "eManufacturing" tools that allow process engineers to step through the assembly process a part at a time, lay out prototype assembly lines, and manage the layout of manufacturing plants down to the last welding gun.


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