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Discussion Starter #1 (Edited)
Welcome to the thread you have been waiting for. I hope it’s every bit as epic as I made it out to be. As this has been in the works for over a week now, I would highly recommend you take the time to read through each bit thoroughly instead of skipping through to just the pictures. Also note:
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Introduction:
Some of you may have figured out, I was given the opportunity to tour some of GM’s facilities to learn more about how they operate. I fought quite a bit with choosing the right presentation format for what you’re about to see, and ultimately decided that this is more than just an epic tour, but an opportunity to show you what I saw, teach you what I learned, and release a truth that seems to be the industry’s best kept secret. The GM of today is nowhere near what it was yesterday, and you’re about to see why.

Flint Engine Operations
On Wednesday night, I drove into the Detroit area and checked into our Hotel a few miles away from Pontiac, MI where I would be meeting up with Tom Read, a name many of you have heard before on this board. Those of you who recognize the name will know Tom as one of the many “believers” at GM, who faithfully embraces the truth that GM cannot settle for anything less than a superior product, built with transparency, excellence, and vision.

At 9:00 AM, we met up with Tom at GM’s Powertrain Headquarters in Pontiac.



Meeting Tom for the first time was a genuine pleasure. He informed me that our first stop would actually be in Flint, MI, and that we’d be driving up there, so we walked out of the building and out to the parking lot. Here I was thinking that we’d probably hop into a fully loaded Impala or Malibu and drive out to the plant, but Tom threw me quite a surprise when he handed me the keys and stopped by the car I would be driving us around Detroit in, a 2012 Cadillac CTS-V Coupe.



You guys can ask me how driving that car was later, but let’s move on to our first stop, GM’s engine assembly plant in Flint, MI. Flint Engine Operations is where the 1.4T and 1.4 Voltec engines are built. On entrance, we were greeted by a Quality Control Manager and another Tom; Flint’s Plant Communications Manager. We spent about one hour learning about the quality control processes GM has in place at this plant, as well as procedures that are followed should anything go wrong, and let me tell you guys, I was blown away.

GM’s Flint Engine Operations is a fairly new building that received $480.3 million in renovations since 2009 in order to support the production of the 1.4 engines. This was GM Powertrain’s first plant to go “landfill free.” Zero plant waste has been sent to landfills since 2005. Want to talk green? This is it. Everything that gets discarded is melted down or recycled to create something new; an initiative that many of us can greatly respect and admire.

What I learned during the hour I spent in that office made me realize how far GM has come. The whole plant is set up specifically to prevent failure, error, and defect. The operations management is world-class in this facility.

Equipment Failure Prevention: GM closely monitors their equipment in this plant on a continual basis. They’ve created a science of keeping their equipment working in perfect order. If a bearing is expected to fail or shows even early signs of failure, they will plan for the replacement ahead of time in order to prevent any error from occurring during that machine's use.

Employee Error Prevention: The processes in place here leave absolutely no room for error. Everything is handled in a sequential order, and each step has to be completed successfully before the engine can be moved onto the next step. If any process leaves any room for error or an error occurs, the cause is addressed immediately. As soon as an issue arises, the assembly line is stopped, and a “SWAT team of engineers” comes into the plant to analyze every aspect of that process to ensure that the error will never occur again. If they need to install laser precision measurement or high definition cameras on a specific part of the assembly line to ensure there is absolutely no way that anything can go wrong, they will take those measures and implement those steps. This results in extremely effective error prevention.

Here’s where you guys get to see what goes on inside that building. As I walked in, the first thing I noticed was how clean the place was. This place is an absolute museum. Without a shred of doubt, I can honestly say that I would eat dinner off of any engine that is produced here. The first place we stopped was naturally the spark plugs, which was coincidentally also one of the first steps in the assembly line. As you’ll note here, these aren’t just picked out of a large bin or bucket where they could be dented, damaged, or have the electrodes bent and the gap changed. These spark plugs are shipped in these trays to GM, and they rest on the outer area of the plug to ensure that the electrode is not touched by the packaging.



Here, people load items into trays that then get sent into a machine for scanning. Among these are valve springs, valves, camshafts, and spark plugs, and they are placed next to the cylinder head to be installed. Each tray is assigned a particular number, that is then tracked as the engine moves along.






Once they’ve traveled a bit, they come into a particular cell where they are measured and inspected. A set of high definition cameras and extremely high precision lasers inspects each of these parts. You can see the cam carriers being inspected in the third picture.






I can’t emphasize enough; this is all done with extreme precision. Not only that, but planned errors are consistently sent through the machine to ensure that it is accurately reading and detecting issues with the parts. Every few cycles, these trays are washed to ensure that no possible debris from any component is left behind to contaminate the next batch.

A few more pictures:







Finally, after all of the components have been installed, including valves and springs, spark plugs, cylinder head, timing chain, timing cover, valve cover, crankshaft, connecting rods and pistons, and oil pan (among many others), the engine enters this particular cell, which probably impressed me the most out of all of them. This is a cold dyno. This is probably the most fascinating step in this process. Once the engines is inside this cell, it is filled with oil, and a tube or wire is connected to every possible component on the engine. An electric motor is connected to the crankshaft, which then turns the motor at high speeds. During this time, the machine measures airflow through the intake ports, exhaust ports, the resistance and friction on the crankshaft as its being turned, any vibration being created by the engine, and the resistance of the spark plugs, just to name a small number of testing variables. To put it bluntly, if the motor isn’t perfect, it’s not getting past this machine. Every single engine that comes out of this Flint plant is absolutely perfect and ready to be driven without error or failure, at least with regard to assembly.




Once the engine has been thoroughly tested, it is thoroughly inspected before going onward to packaging, where it will be loaded onto a truck. During this whole process, each individual component was tracked based on VIN number, which is how they know how many vehicles are affected for a given TSB. At this point, your Cruze order has probably already been placed.



I was speaking to Tom Read about these tolerances and precisions, and he had mentioned that in the old days, they used to have three piston sizes for engines; small, medium, and large. Whatever piston fit best into the cylinder bore based on a given end of the tolerance limit was the piston that would be used. This isn’t the case anymore; as everything is precision measured, tested, re-tested, and inspected. Anyone still have any doubts that this motor will make it to at least 500k miles? I know I don’t. The amount of engineering that goes into the processes to assemble this motor is mind blowing. But what about the engineering? Well…that’s our next stop.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
GM Powertrain Headquarters

After we were done at the Flint Engine Operations plant, we headed over to the Performance Center. However, we’ll leave that for last as a treat. Let’s move on to our third stop at GM Powertrain Headquarters.

GM Powertrain Headquarters is where engines and transmissions are designed, manufactured, and tested. Due to the confidential nature of this, I was unable to take photos, but what I will share is what I learned, which should be infinitely more valuable. None of the pictures would have made any sense to most people anyway.

Engine development at GM is, to put it plainly, state-of-the-art. The have perfected this to a thing of beauty, beyond just excellence and superiority. Yes, I’m referring to its competitors. GM’s Powertrain Global Headquarters is the largest and most advanced powertrain engineering complex in the world. It is the product of 30 years of planning and restructuring inside GM, and I can honestly say the future is looking blindingly bright for GM.

Engine development begins in the planning phase. It takes about 1.5 years for GM to design an engine, and during this time, no physical products are actually created. Engineering teams from around the world coordinate to develop these motors using the most sophisticated proprietary engine simulation software that exists. That software is something that sets GM above other manufacturers.

Once an engine is designed, a few prototype engines are created. These engines are built by elite engine builders, who spend 3-4 days assembling one engine, while measuring each individual specification, tolerance, gap, and measurement that can be taken with absolute precision. Once these engines are assembled, they are sent to one of GM’s 120 out-of-car dyno cells, where they are subjected to the equivalent of thousands of miles of testing in temperatures from -40 to +60 degrees Celsius. They have two dynos with the ability to instantly shift +54 to -54 degrees of rotational freedom in 360 degrees of direction, simulating up to 1.3g of vehicle load in order to test fluid behavior.

This facility houses development of hybrid powertrains, electric powertrains, and all types of transmissions for cars, trucks, hybrids, and electric vehicles including RWD, FWD, and AWD transmissions, up to a maximum torque of 950Nm (701 ft-lb).

Once an engine has begun testing in one of the dyno cells, it is constantly monitored by engineers with high resolution cameras, and every single aspect of that engine is being measured and recorded. During the life of that testing cycle, gigabytes of data is gathered. What’s special about GM is not just their ability to do this, but their ability to adapt their software to incorporate the results of all of this testing in new engine simulation. Startup companies like Fisker don’t even stand a chance and have no idea what they’re even getting into. It’s probably why they don’t even aspire to compete with GM. As a side note, GM’s 2.0 Turbo is what’s being fitted into the Fisker. As a result of all of this testing, data gathering, and improving of their proprietary software, they are able to design engines like never before. Instead of producing 5, 30, and then 500 engines to test in various configurations in an expensive fleet of test mules, they can do 500 engines’ worth of testing in their simulations with the ability to change any variable, needing only to produce a much smaller test run.

During this testing, engines are also sent to GM’s proving grounds for in-vehicle testing. Once they are tested, they are brought back to the lab, where an elite engine builder then disassembles the engine, checking for torque, gaps, tolerances, and every specification that can be measured during the disassembly period, which is then used to make any changes needed to the motor. The whole process for developing a motor takes about 3 years.

While I would love to explain more, it seems someone has beaten me to this one:

Inside GM's State-of-the-Art Powertrain Engineering Center - PickupTrucks.com News
 

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Discussion Starter #3 (Edited)
Lordstown

I arrived at Lordstown on Friday morning at 10:00 AM and met with another Tom! This is where you get to see the Cruze being made.

Metal Fabrication
In one section of this facility, the metal stamping occurs in tools the size of warehouses that can produce stamped steel at an incredible rate. To give you guys some perspective; ~1500 cars go through the Lordstown plant per day. I’ll let the pictures do the talking for this one:







Then there’s this particular picture, which deserves a caption. Inside this plant, components are delivered to workers using automated vehicles that use magnets in the floor to travel a pre-set route inside the building. Really neat!





This last picture is the final step that the Cruze shell takes before traveling a couple of miles through a tunnel to the painting facility. Fun fact: during the production of the Cruze in this plant, the car travels ~20 miles on conveyor belts.



Videos met the exceeded limit for this post, so they will be posted in the following post.



Assembly
Once the frame of the car has gone through the paint section, it arrives here down a conveyor belt. First thing that goes on the car? The VIN badge.





During the assembly, the doors are actually removed. Once they are removed, a tool kit is hung from the door, which contains every piece and tool necessary for the next worker to use to install whatever is needed on that door. The door is removed to make interior assembly easier.



This is where they “marry” the shell to the powertrain and suspension. The powertrain is carried around by more vehicles guided by magnets in the floors. Hydraulic pistons lift the entire assembly up into the car, which is then bolted into place.




Engines being carried away…




Rims and tires being mounted and inflated


Final step after the car is done is inspection. These cars all go past a sizeable group of inspectors who have a hawk’s eye for imperfections and details that need to be addressed. Pretty much nothing gets past these guys.



I have to say one thing before we move on; I was impressed and warmed by the welcoming nature of all of the workers here and in Flint. I can’t say any of them hate their job or despise their boss, and I would be happy to work in that environment. Each one of these employees is proud of the work that they do, and do it excellently. One thing I did notice was a carry-over of standard practices from the Flint plant, with regard to error detection and prevention. Again, this was a very impressive atmosphere.

After my tour was over with Tom, he took a picture of us (myself, my wife, and Ryan (OnlyTaurus)), pulled out his voice recorder, and pulled me aside to ask me some questions. I’ll present the questions here and my answers to them as well as I can remember. These were all given on the spot without any hesitation or moments of pause:

Q: “Tell me more about the CruzeTalk site and what you guys do.”
A: We basically help other people that come to the forum. When new members show up and have questions, we’re there to answer them, address any concerns, and help them in any way they can. If they’re new members and are asking if they should buy a Cruze, our answer is generally yes and we do all we can to get them into a Cruze. We help anyone who has any problems to the best of our ability, forward anyone to GM Customer service if they have a problem we can’t help with, and, generally speaking, do everything in the best of our abilities to make sure they have the best Cruze ownership experience they possibly can have.

Q: “Why did you pick the Cruze specifically to support in this way?”
A: “I’ve owned GM cars from my very first car, a 95 Buick Regal. I believe in supporting America, supporting the American economy, and I believe in this car. No offense to the Cobalt and Cavalier, but the Cruze is just miles ahead of it in terms of quality, and I want people to see that. I believe in this car and where GM is going. It is saving me and my family money, and is an excellent car, and I want other people to see that.”

It was at that point in time that I realized that Ryan and I were the face of CruzeTalk at the GM Lordstown plant. Shortly after this, we went upstairs to their cafeteria to have lunch, and Tom left for a moment while we ate. Shortly after, he arrived with Bob Parcell, the Lordstown Plant Manager who sat down to talk to us as well. He asked us a few of the same questions, which were answered in the same general manner. He told us that he was thankful and appreciative for what we do, and I could tell in the way both he and Tom spoke to us that they were genuinely appreciative. I could tell that the atmosphere of this place was one of pride and genuine hard work. People who work here take pride in what they do, and to hear that we’re out here supporting their product really seemed to impress them. In fact, it made enough of an impact that they told us that they will be promoting this site, CruzeTalk.com. They had been lurking the site for a short while prior to our arrival and were impressed with what we do here. It seems Ryan and I left a pretty good impression, and for that I’m grateful.

Bob or Tom, if either of you are reading this, it was a genuine pleasure to meet both of you.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
I was also able to get some videos. This first video shows the top of the frame being spot welded:

This second video shows a robot applying adhesive to the door. GM discovered that two layers of sheet metal sandwiched with adhesive is just as strong as 3 layers of metal, but lighter!

Some additional spot welding:
 

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Discussion Starter #5 (Edited)
GM Performance Build Center

Between the Flint Engine Operations plant and the GM Powertrain Headquarters, we stopped by a little place some people may not even know about. The GM Performance Center is where a small team of engine builders hand-assembles each of the Corvette engines. Commence drooling. :p







Proud to be American.


LS9 piston with titanium connecting rods



Station where they install connecting rod bearings


Bearing kit




Crankshaft installation





Oil cooler adapter?


Fitting the timing cover with a specially made jig.



See that torque wrench? The builder scans a barcode for each bolt that is installed, which then automatically sets the torque on the torque wrench. Once the desired torque has been achieved, a green light lights up on the torque wrench and the next bolt is scanned.




This machine tightens down the cylinder head bolts. This is something one person cannot possibly do as effectively as this machine can.


Rockers and pushrod



LS9 Supercharger




...continued in next post due to image limit...
 

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Discussion Starter #6 (Edited)
LS9 intercooler



Here’s a neat bit. Each engine builder has his own plaque with his name on it, which he affixes to each engine he builds. If you pay $5,800 upon purchase of your Z06 or ZR1, you can build your own engine, and you get your own plaque made to fit on your engine. Taking the American dream car to a whole new level!




Clutch installation








Cold dyno, just like we saw at the flint plant:



Rotating and reciprocating cranktrain balancer. Here's where they balance everything attached to the crankshaft by adding weights to the flywheel and damper.








Pictures of people who have built their own motor



...continued on next post due to image limit...
 

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I haven't had a chance to view all of your posts yet, but you're very lucky that you got to take pics and videos.

Every auto plant I've toured (Toyota, Nissan and Mazda in Japan, NUMMI, and Ford Rouge) don't allow people on tours to take pictures or video. It seems only those w/the media/journalists or approved internal photographers/videographers are generally allowed.

For NUMMI, I recall having to hand over either my camera (or was it my camera phone?) before the start of the tour.

One should be VERY glad that GM today isn't like that of yesterday (back in the 70s and 80s). For those who want to hear about how screwed up assembly was (at least at GM Fremont, CA), one should listen to the This American Life ep I mentioned at http://www.cruzetalk.com/forum/27-fuel-economy/3794-diesel-worth-waiting-9.html#post51533.
 

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Great job Xtreme, well written you definitely give us a great perspective on the inside job that goes on building our great cars. It feels good to know the top notch quality that goes in to building these fine machines, thanks for this great write up Andrei.

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SGH-I747 using AutoGuide.Com Free App
 

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Discussion Starter #15
Moving Heritage room pictures to page 2 to reduce load times for page 1

Heritage Room!

























This is the last of the posts. Feel free to comment!
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I've uploaded new resized photos that require less time to load so your browser doesn't lock up trying to load the first page. I also moved the Heritage room pictures to the second page to reduce load times for the first page. Now it's at least manageable.

I haven't had a chance to view all of your posts yet, but you're very lucky that you got to take pics and videos.

Every auto plant I've toured (Toyota, Nissan and Mazda in Japan, NUMMI, and Ford Rouge) don't allow people on tours to take pictures or video. It seems only those w/the media/journalists or approved internal photographers/videographers are generally allowed.

For NUMMI, I recall having to hand over either my camera (or was it my camera phone?) before the start of the tour.
This wasn't a public tour with a typical tour guide. Without getting into details, I've formed relationships with contacts at GM that have given me this opportunity. It's not something they do for everyone. I am more than appreciative that I had the chance to do this and even moreso that I was able to bring back some of what I saw.

My question is this if the inspectors find an imperfection what steps are taken to correct it.
I'm actually not entirely sure. I can email Tom @ Lordstown to ask him if you want to know more.

Great job extreme (How does one go about getting a tour of the Lordstown plant)
I believe they give public tours on a specific schedule. If you or a local group of people are interested in going, they might be able to set something up. Let me know, and I can shoot Tom an email asking about this.
 

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Discussion Starter #17 (Edited)
On the left is Tom Read, the man who made all of this happen. If there's anyone you should be thanking, it's him. I just sent him the link to this page, so feel free to express your thanks here.


 

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Xtreme I'm from the Quad Cities I don't know if you know where that is or not but anyway I would really like to find out how to get a tour of the Lordstown plant anything you could find out for me would be helpful thanks again.
 

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Discussion Starter #19
Xtreme I'm from the Quad Cities I don't know if you know where that is or not but anyway I would really like to find out how to get a tour of the Lordstown plant anything you could find out for me would be helpful thanks again.
I'll ask if they'd be willing to set up another public tour or when their next public tour will be.
 
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