California Autos Examiner

Thursday, December 24, 2009

General Motors to run Kansas City plant nearly 24/7: Efficiency breakthrough or not sustainable?

General Motors Fairfax Assembly Plant  (Courtesy:GM )
General Motors is planning on running its Fairfax plant in Kansas City with a permanent third shift.  Many auto plants run with overtime or a temporary third shift when demand surges, but a permanent third shift  is simply unheard of in the auto industry.  If successful GM will gain heretofore unbelievable levels of efficiency (more than 100% by traditional measures) from an already efficient plant, boosting production from 4,500 vehicles a week to 6,300, but if the plan fails, it will have to put up with a lot of “I told you so’s” from industry experts.

View a gallery of images from the Fairfax plant in this linked slideshow.

GM’s plan reminds me of my youth, when I managed a student cooperative while attending college.  I hatched a plan where I would rent out a storage closet to a student at a reduced rate, thereby boosting occupancy to greater than 100%.  The closet had a window (albeit slim) and a smoke detector, so I figured that if I could find a renter, it would be an easy way to score more money for the cooperative.  I showed the room to a resident assistant and as she gazed at the tiny room, she said to me “You know, this has been the (fill in the blank) dream of every manager who has ever worked here.”  Sadly, the window would not open to provide a secondary means of escape and my plan was foiled.  Besides, the room really was ridiculously small.
Many industry experts believe that Obama administration’s plan to get the Fairfax plant running with a permanent third shift is an equal flight of fancy and here’s why:  Automotive manufacturing plants need downtime to perform maintenance, clean and restock.  GM thinks it can get all of that work done by “overspeeding” parts of the line and then slowing them down later.  My wife had better not hear about this, lest she try and “overspeed” my “honey do” list.
If any plant can carry it off, Kansas City’s Fairfax would be the one.  The plant is one of the most efficient auto plants operating in the USA and it produces two of GM’s hottest cars, the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse, two cars that GM cannot manufacture fast enough.
We will not have to wait long to find out if GM can squeeze the buffalo a bit more as the Fairfax plant is scheduled to begin its third shift on January 4 of next year.
For more informationRead this Wall Street Journal article.

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