GM Lordstown on Cruze control

GM leaves room for expansion during the Lordstown renovations.

By Don Shilling


GM Lordstown Robotics

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Tom Steele, GM Lordstown Body Shop Launch manager, talks about use of robotics for production of the upcoming Cruze.

LORDSTOWN — The General Motors car plant here is preparing for the Chevrolet Cruze — and more.

Preparations for the Cruze are easy to spot. Crews are installing 800 robots and reconfiguring the assembly line as part of a $351 million upgrade.

Preparations for the “more” are less obvious.

To find it, you have to look past the new robots that contort and swivel on command to assemble metal pieces into the underbody of a car.

Take the manufacturing cell where the outer door skin and the inner door frame are meshed together, for example.

New equipment, called a hem press, is ready to begin its work on doors for the Cruze. Next to it are three empty spaces.

It’s in these “protected spaces” that the future of the plant lies, Tom Steele, body shop launch manager, said during a media tour of the plant Wednesday.

GM is protecting these spaces because it is preparing the plant not just for Cruze — which is to launch in April — but also for up to seven other models.

In the hem press area, three more machines could be added to work on doors of other models.

These other models could be another car, a minivan or anything that can be built off the underbody platform used by the Cruze, Steele said. The renovated body shop would add different doors and sides to produce these different vehicles.

The main idea of the Lordstown renovations is to make the plant more flexible, said John Donahoe, complex manager.

The redesigned body shop — where the metal pieces of the vehicle are fitted together — will be able to build as many as seven different models, he said.

GM hasn’t committed to building anything besides the Cruze in Lordstown, however, and it won’t until the complex proves its worthy, he said.

“We’re in position, but we have to put points on the board in terms of safety, quality and continuous improvement,” Donahoe said.

More models could mean more work. A drastic downturn in the automotive market has led to the complex alternating between having one shift and being totally shut down.

GM executives, however, have said they hope to bring three-shift production to nearly all of their plants.

Donahoe said the complex has 2,200 hourly and salaried workers on one shift and would add 800 more with a second shift.

The body shop renovation is the key to making that happen and is the place where most of the $351 million is being spent.

Now, the two separate plants at Lordstown — the fabricating and assembly plants — each have body shops. The shops are separated because body shops used to require more space and because the fabricating plant used to stamp metal parts for other assembly plants.

The renovations are merging the two body shops into one at the fabricating plant, which will save money because parts won’t be transported to the assembly plant, Steele said.

The work is so extensive that only 50 of the current 600 robots are being retained. The rest will be removed once Cruze production starts.

To replace them, GM has installed 300 new robots and 500 others that were brought in from closed GM plants.

The assembly plant also is being revamped.

The changes there have allowed the assembly line to be shortened by 990 feet. Less line space is needed because operators no longer will have to walk to bins to select parts to be installed.

Instead, kits that contain their parts will be in the car as it comes down the line.

That will make line operators more efficient, said Michele Lambert, Cruze launch manager.

Shortening the assembly line has freed up space that allows those part kits to be assembled by United Auto Workers in the plant, she said. The plant also has space to bring in house the assembly of the steering column, which has been done by a supplier.

Donahoe said between 100 and 200 jobs will be added to the assembly plant because of the changes.

He said production of the car will be more efficient, but he expects overall employment to remain the same because the Cruze will have more content that needs to be installed.

Lambert said the assembly plant remodeling is to be done July 12, and the body shop renovation is to be complete in August. The complex will then begin making test models for the Cruze.

GM has done a lot to make Lordstown successful, Donahoe said.

In addition to these renovations, GM spent $1 billion to prepare for the launch of the Chevrolet Cobalt in 2004. That work included new stamping presses, assembly line equipment and an addition to house a new paint shop with the latest technology.

“We’re there,” Donahoe said. “It’s in our hands now.”

SEE ALSO: Howland native is launch manager for Cruze.


Details of the $351 million upgrade to the GM Lordstown complex:


The assembly plant’s body shop is being moved to the fabricating plant so there will be one body shop instead of two. The body shop is where the metal parts of the car are pieced together.

New robots are being installed to produce metal parts for up to seven different vehicles. This includes 300 new robots, 500 robots moved from other plants and 50 existing robots that have been reprogrammed.


About 990 feet of the assembly line has been removed. Less line space is needed because parts are sent directly to an operator, so less operator movement is needed.

Less space for the line has created 40,000 square feet of space for work that had been done by suppliers. That work will include assembling the steering column and creating smaller part kits that will go to assembly-line operators.

Source: GM Lordstown