Chrysler Group’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant (JNAP) in Detroit is gearing up for the public launch of the redesigned 2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee. A $US241 million capital investment involved a significant overhaul of the plant’s body and paint shops as well as the implementation of innovative processes.

“By overhauling many critical areas at Jefferson North, the facility is now better positioned to implement smart manufacturing techniques, using a balanced combination of robotics, people and processes to run a more efficient assembly line,” said Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler’s manufacturing head. “Smart manufacturing also doesn’t compromise design or quality. Even with the addition of many new high-tech product features, we’ve built in consistent quality with each vehicle that rolls off the line.”

JNAP went through a three-week tooling, equipment and manufacturing process changeover this summer. As a result, the plant is now equipped with the capability to build multiple models, while simultaneously piloting an additional vehicle. It also has the ability to implement future product introductions with a rolling launch strategy, minimising production loss.

The launch preparation had engineering, manufacturing and supplier teams working together at the plant, test-building pilot vehicles on the same assembly line, helping validate vehicle quality and getting on-the-assembly-line training.

Reusing existing equipment

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In order to launch multiple vehicles at the same plant, in a short span of time and with less capital investment, Chrysler applies a plant asset reutilisation strategy. At JNAP, the majority of the body shop assets (robotics, tooling, conveyor lines, etc.) were reused, creating a new body shop with existing equipment and within the plant’s current floor plan.

As a result, the company was able to redirect millions of dollars towards other projects within the company, rather than tie it up in capital equipment. Past practices would have called for the removal and scrapping of all equipment for the new model.

Extreme makeover

JNAP’s body shop went through an extreme makeover, which required the re- building of the entire operations, in an area of unused white space. Over 200 robots in the existing body shop were refurbished for the launch and approximately 75% of the conveyor line system was either modified or replaced. Similar technology and processes used at other Chrysler plants that recently launched new vehicles were applied to the facility’s makeover.

Paint shop changes also contributed to plant flexibility. The plant launch team added new robotics, changing the sprayers in the paint booths to allow for greater coverage of paint on varying body styles.

Adoption of new quality processes and the addition of sound-dampening technology were implemented for the 2004 Grand Cherokee and are being carried into the 2005 model year programme.


A staggered training strategy played a critical role in ensuring high quality levels from the start. This approach included early process training with plant employees at Chrysler’s pilot operations in Auburn Hills, as well as extensive training at the plant. It also verified safe operating practices by validating ergonomically related processes that were originally created and tested with digital computer tools. Nearly 2,800 plant employees benefited from more than 100,000 hours of training in preparation for new vehicle production.

JNAP began production of the new Grand Cherokee on July 26 and vehicles will reach dealerships this autumn. For markets outside North America, Magna Steyr will manufacture the new SUV for Chrysler in Graz, Austria.