USA: Delphi readies Michigan electric power steering plant

By just-auto.com editorial team | 26 September 2002

Delphi Corporation, having secured electric power steering business with General Motors for future applications is preparing a 55,000 square foot brownfield redevelopment manufacturing location in Buena Vista Township, Michigan for the start of E*Steer electric power steering production.  The new facility will use two new manufacturing processes: math based metal removal and high precision gear set machining.

In January 2001, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC) granted Delphi a Brownfield Redevelopment Single Business Tax Credit, which is designed to encourage new investment in obsolete facilities.  The MEDC also provided additional support to the project via a three year Economic Development Job Training Grant.

The redevelopment of the facility in Buena Vista Township began in June 2001.  The facility, which will be able to produce more than 400,000 systems annually, features 12 lean work cells instead of traditional assembly lines.  This single plant will produce and assemble the full electric power steering system including the steering column, assist mechanism, intermediate shaft, and rack and pinion gear, which will then be delivered to the customer as a single module.

In addition to lean cells, other lean manufacturing approaches used in the redevelopment included flexible installation of machinery, one-piece flow within cells, and small lot material handling strategies.

The new E*Steer plant is using Delphi's math based metal removal (MBMR) process, the industry's first implementation of modeling of machining in a personal computer-based intelligent software system.  Using this process, engineers can now use virtual machining to optimise machining parameters prior to ever setting foot on the plant floor.  This optimisation tool helps remove subjectivity and provides improvements to cycle time and quality.

The E*Steer plant has specifically used MBMR to improve the assist mechanism housing machining process.  Through computer-based analysis, engineers changed the path of the tool, reduced non-cut time and changed the sequence of the cycle to eliminate delays and combine moves.  Overall MBMR allowed an 11.6% improvement in cycle time.

Another award-winning process being applied in the plant is the manufacturing of a high precision plastic worm gear set, which is another first in the automotive industry.  The hybrid worm gear set is designed to improve responsiveness in the electric steering mechanism.  This manufacturing process evolved from the challenge of cutting precision plastic gears versus conventional metal gears.

Delphi began electric power steering production in 1999 for European customer Fiat, followed by Volkswagen in 2001, and has since produced more than 1.5 million units.