We’ve seen the higher costs accosiated with getting a great product in 3D, but now one very large car company is actually using 3D to lower their costs.
The ability to map out the intricate machinery and processes of a powertrain plant in 3D is saving Chrysler money and development time while improving quality, said Brian Harlow, head of NAFTA powertrain operations and global powertrain manufacturing engineering.
The modeling system is key to the speedy transformation of a transmission plant in Kokomo, Ind. to make new 8- and 9-speed transmissions that Chrysler will roll out across its lineup to improve the fuel efficiency of its vehicles.
The ability to visualize every inch of a plant, including people, parts, robots and other equipment, and then virtually test how well they work together helps employees find and fix issues that might delay a launch and prove expensive to fix once the real equipment and people are in place.
“We’re on an accelerated plan because we were able to set up the processes,” Harlow told reporters on the eve of his presentation Monday at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars here.
Harlow was almost giddy in describing the powerful 3D modeling data Chrysler has at its fingertips from a relationship with Strategic Manufacturing Solutions of Auburn Hills which started supplying the detailed software two years ago.
The software allows Chrysler to design efficient powertrain plants that reduce waste of materials, effort or space, Harlow said.
Three-dimensional 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.
Chrysler 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.
Kokomo is now making prototypes of the 8-speed which will begin production this fall – when the real plant will mirror the animated model that has been two years in the making.
Early next year, Chrysler will start making the 9-speed in Kokomo as well. Harlow would not say what vehicles will initially get the new 9-speed but Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne has said previously that they will go into the minivan family in the future.
Harlow said engineering costs were 4% of the $1.3 billion Kokomo investment initially but they have been reduced to 3% with the help of SMS.
And the Kokomo launch will be smoother with fewer issues to resolve, he said, constituting “substantial savings.”
Chrysler’s use of 3D modeling in vehicle assembly plants is not as detailed as the SMS program and Harlow said his assembly and stamping colleagues are eyeing the SMS system for possible use.
Future powertrain plants around the world will employ the 3D modeling and NAFTA plants are being retrofitted using the data. That includes the Mack, Trenton and Dundee engine plants as well as Saltillo, Mexico.
Team leaders in the plants as well as Chrysler and Fiat executives around the world can use a computerized white board to mark improvements to plant designs and upload the to the cloud to share with colleagues.
The SMS program also shows the investment costs, operating budget and cost per unit of plant expansions to help with such decisions, Harlow said.
Source: Press Release
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