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Chrysler visits sites to train line workers, raise efficiency


A 55-foot trailer that serves as high-tech rolling classroom visited Chrysler’s Toledo Machining plant Monday in Perrysburg Twp.

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Chrysler says some 7,000 employees have completed a training course at the company’s World Class Manufacturing Academy in Warren, Mich.

Now it’s bringing the program to more workers.

The WCM initiative, borrowed from Fiat, aims to reduce waste while improving productivity and quality. And while the company says the process has been the driving force behind improvements at its manufacturing plants, the concepts remain cloudy for many of the automaker’s line workers.

“We’ve done a good job training our pillar leaders and our team leaders and engineers how to solve problems and identify top losses. We’ve done a good job of that,” said Wendy Santure. “With team members is where we see the biggest gap. We still have lots of team members that aren’t involved at all.”

As the lead facilitator with Chrysler’s WCM Academy mobile unit, Ms. Santure hopes to change that.

It’s fairly easy for the company to pull away managers and team leaders in order to preach the WCM gospel. But what Chrysler found is the message can get jumbled the farther down the chain it trickles — sort of like the old telephone game, Ms. Santure said.

“One of the key components of WCM is standardization,” she said. “If you don’t have standard material, standard concept, standard follow-up, then you see that variation, and before you know it you’ve got plants going in 10 different directions.”

To take the process directly to line workers, Chrysler refurbished a 55-foot trailer that previously had served Dodge Motorsports into a sort of high-tech rolling classroom.

The mobile unit rolled into Chrysler’s Toledo Machining plant in Perrysburg Township on Monday. The plant employs more than 1,000 people, making steering columns and torque converters.

Ms. Santure and her three United Auto Workers assistants work with 126 employees a day, rotating three groups through three sessions that in all take about an hour and a half.

Employees are given the basic overview of WCM and its methodology and taught how to write improvement suggestions, an important part of WCM.

Dameon Austin met WCM with some skepticism. Having worked at the machining plant for more than 16 years, he’s seen similar programs come and go. But he said Monday that seeing the company put an effort into training workers as well as team leaders helped him get behind it.

“Now we’re able to get firsthand information of what’s going on, and I understand it more,” he said. “I see where the concept all works out.”

Mr. Austin even put in a suggestion for placing a mirror behind the machine where he works so he can see the parts coming in behind him to see if he’s getting low.

Ms. Santure said the program is aimed at showing employees how important they are to the process, helping them understand what they can do, and getting them more involved.

“For team members, the engagement is tough. But it seems like once we get the initial engagement, they’re in,” she said.

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