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GM's Saturn blends people with technology systems.

GM's Saturn blends people with technology systems

As General Motors' Saturn operation moves forward to a fall introduction of the long-awaited car, Bruce MacDonald, VP of corporate communications shares a fundamental Saturn philosophy. "Technology is secondary to people systems," he explains, talking about the structure of the Spring Hill, TN, facility.

Illustrating Saturn's commitment to people, it devotes 70,000 sq ft of the 308,000-sq-ft Northfield training and development center to its workers. Training is on-going, with individualized training plans developed for each worker. In 1990 alone, Saturn has devoted close to 440,000 hours of training for its workers. Ongoing, each worker will receive an average of 350 hours of training to qualify as job ready.

But while Mr MacDonald relegates technology to a secondary position, it is evident that Saturn's manufacturing complex is full of some of the most advanced technologies and processes available. From lost-foam casting to a single line for manual and automatic transmissions to plastic injection molding, Saturn's 4-million-sq-ft air-conditioned manufacturing plant is unquestionably state-of-the-art.

An on-site foundry is located in the powertrain building. Aluminum blocks and heads, differential transmission cases, and iron crankshafts are the components cast. However, Saturn chose to use the lost-foam process, departing from more traditional casting concepts. Using lost foam, Saturn greatly reduces the amount of machining required on cast pieces.

The transmission line covers 52,000 sq ft and allows the machining and assembly of manual and automatic transmissions on the same line. Workers identify transmission type by sight, either looking at the transmission itself or a monitor mounted above the workstation. A monorail moves the assemblies through the stations, which have two benches equipped with parts for either manual or automatic transmissions.

In the body-panel facility, the car's plastic body panels are molded and painted using a water-borne-paint system. All vertical body panels and fascias on the new car are plastic. Instead of using reaction injection molding as they did with the Fiero, GM uses thermoplastic technology at Saturn.

"You normally look at advanced technology and think of robotics, automated vision, and automatic operations," says Guy Briggs, VP of manufacturing operations. "We've used them where they make sense, where they give you an advantage."

"We didn't want to get caught up and try to make this plant a model for all the bells and whistles with all the advanced technology that's coming in the industry," he continues. So Saturn took an approach where employees had unprecedented involvement, with full partnership between union and management. "If this all sounds unrelated to manufacturing, listen closely," Mr Briggs concludes. "Partnership issues and actions are fundamental to manufacturing at Saturn."
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Title Annotation:General Motors Corp.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Date:Oct 1, 1990
Words:439
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