By Melissa Holobach
First-time visitors to the Conner Avenue Assembly Plant (CAAP) in Detroit, Mich., home to the Dodge Viper SRT10,® often experience the same surprised reaction. Be it a visiting Viper owner or a management or union representative, walking into CAAP for the first time never fails to elicit an exclamation of something along the lines of, “Oh, my!”
That’s because the Dodge Viper SRT10 manufacturing process is unique to Chrysler Group LLC. Visitors are struck by the quiet atmosphere in our plant in comparison to the usual din of a standard assembly line. The calm atmosphere can be credited to the absence of robotics and automation—the Dodge Viper SRT10 is a hand-built car, eliminating the need for automated systems or robots.
The calm, however, is deceptive. Each craftsperson at CAAP is responsible for about an hour’s worth of content that must be precisely installed on each Dodge Viper SRT10; whereas at a typical automotive plant an assembly worker might spend 45 seconds on a vehicle. Craftspeople undergo a three-week training period with an experienced worker before they work the line unsupervised. The training period is critical, because each Dodge Viper SRT10 is unique in its own way.
For instance, body panels aren’t installed in an exact position. Each vehicle needs to be tweaked; a little to the right, a little to the left. CAAP requires our craftspeople to put a great deal of mental engagement into their work. Take into consideration how much content an operator puts on each Dodge Viper SRT10—220 work elements ?on average. That’s a lot for a worker to remember and do correctly every single time. Watching our CAAP workers, it’s almost like a choreographed dance—very well done, ?but very extensive and very complex. It’s imperative for our craftspeople to be engaged.
Engagement: It’s a philosophy at CAAP. For example, we are continually engaged in communication with our customer base. We enjoy a uniquely close relationship with Dodge Viper owners. We never turn down a Viper owner for a tour of the CAAP facilities. In fact, we encourage them to come in and see their vehicles being built.
CAAP boasts a customer pick-up program that is unique within Chrysler Group LLC. Owners can pick their car up right at the plant and then drive away. Some of our customers actually know the names of craftspeople who work on the line. There are rumors that some craftspeople have even been invited to the weddings of Viper owners! It’s a wonderful thing, and we try to encourage that relationship. It helps the craftspeople on the line understand exactly what they are doing—fueling the fire for a loving and passionate customer base.
The continuous attitude of engagement at CAAP has provided Chrysler Group LLC with important lessons. The Dodge Viper SRT10 has a long history of providing some great “a-ha” moments to the corporation. The concept of the “team” approach to production, where team leads are actively involved in the building of the vehicle, originated with the Dodge Viper product line in the 1990s. When the rest of the corporation adopted the team approach, we at CAAP immediately thought, “Hey, we’ve been doing that for awhile!”
Another good example is our flexibility and the ability to move quickly in a low-run production. At CAAP, we can get our arms around a problem and dive right into root causes. We don’t have the mass complexity of a classic assembly plant. We can see what the issue is and come to a resolution.
Of course, it’s vital to maintain both craftsmanship and discipline. We use the same system as all other Chrysler Group LLC plants when it comes to assuring quality. I like to say that we hold in balance discipline and craftsmanship, in the sense that you can be so focused on craftsmanship that you have no repeatability or verification, while you can be so disciplined that you have no craftsmanship.
We try to hold true to those two intentions. We have discipline on quality items such as torque readings and understanding issues and going after them in a very disciplined and systematic way, yet still allow that every Dodge Viper SRT10 is unique. We are held to very high standards by the extremely passionate owners. It’s understandable, since the Dodge Viper SRT10 continues to be a true pinnacle vehicle for the brand and company—it’s expected to be perfect. And we work very hard to deliver perfection.