Chrysler Group LLC will employ a new manufacturing process developed using three-dimensional techniques to make transmissions at its Indiana plant, a move that will save costs and be replicated in its other plants, the company said.
Brian Harlow, head of Chrysler's powertrain operations in North America and of powertrain engineering globally, said 3D modeling cut engineering costs to develop production methods for two different transmissions to be made at the company's engine plant in Kokomo, Indiana.
Chrysler, majority owned and managed by Italy's Fiat SpA, is spending $1.3 billion at its Kokomo, Ind. plant to make about 450,000 8-speed rear-drive transmissions annually and another 800,000 9-speed front-wheel-drive transmissions to replace the 6-speeds currently assembled there.
3D modeling was already being used to design vehicle assembly plants. "For powertrain, there was nothing out there," Harlow said. "Powertrain is so much more complicated with machining, tooling and gauging."
Harlow said he is unaware of any other automaker using 3D modeling for engine and transmission plants which represent a huge investment for an automaker.
The engineering portion of those costs was cut to 3 percent from 4 percent as a result of the 3D modeling, Harlow told reporters on Sunday on the sidelines of the Center for Automotive Research industry conference.
The 3D pre-production modeling system helps visualize all aspects of a plant, including people, parts and equipment, and then virtually test how they will work together. It was developed by Strategic Manufacturing Solutions (SMS), which like Chrysler, is based in Auburn Hills, Michigan.
Harlow said waste and worker injuries due to repetitive motion will be cut once production begins later this year as a result of pre-production 3D modeling. Cost savings will be "significant," he said. This plan is not as detailed as the SMS program and Harlow said his assembly and stamping colleagues are eyeing the SMS system for possible use.
The 3D imaging will be used in Chrysler's other engine plants in the United States includes the Mack, Trenton and Dundee engine plants as well as Saltillo, Mexico.
Harlow said that by working with suppliers, Chrysler and SMS engineers can simulate the production process in three dimensions much more effectively than with two-dimensional modeling.
"We can address issues before they ever become a problem on the plant floor," said Harlow.
Chrysler's eight-speed transmission goes into production at Kokomo in the fourth quarter and the nine-speed transmission in early 2013, Harlow said. These new transmissions will improve the fuel efficiency of Chrysler's vehicles.
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