VW: building family sedans begins by snapping together toy trucks
By Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- No question; robots will carry many of the heavier loads at Volkswagen's new assembly plant in Hamilton County.
"We're learning how to set up weld parameters and make program modifications," maintenance engineer Jeff Hood says.
But new hires get dropped into an assembly line within their first week of training.
Except, what does snapping together toy trucks, have to do with building the Passat, VW's re-conceptualized mid-size family sedan?
"A lot of it's learning and unlearning, new hire Mike Levi says. "Because it's a mixture of both."
Levi gave up a career in retail "because I love cars, and building them has been a passion of mine since I was a kid."
Friday, he and his 19 classmates have but one major task at Volkswagen Academy.
"Try to make as much as they can, as fast as they can." VW Master Trainer Albert Graser says.
As defined and designed, it sets them up to fail.
"We have too much demand on one side, not enough on the other," quality controller Brian McCord says. "So it creates a challenge. I get backed up on one side."
The work assignments make that clear, quickly.
One team member assembles only the wheels, but passes his work along to a team-mate who must snap all of them onto a frame, and then attach the cab assembly.
Graser admits it's a recipe for uncovering "bad ergonomics, wasting time, delivery-time issues."
"Still waiting," another team member says.
The reason why is simple.
"She was making her end faster than I could make mine," her coworker tells Graser.
Crew members were supposed to assemble ten trucks in seven minutes. Levi alone put together 24 driver cabs.
But once McCord and Graser weed out the unfinished, and the 'finished with errors,' only one truck passes muster.
"You can collaborate and find the best way to do things," team member John Garringer says.
Team members not only are encouraged, but expected, to compare notes and to re-think who does what.
"Any environment where we have stress, your personality is gonna shine through," McCord asserts.
"You'll see people that want to take charge, people that want to lead or to follow," Graser says.
"We definitely match the personality to the job," McCord says.
And to the workload.
"You'll see the light bulbs go on all day long--oh, it's okay, that makes sense," Graser says.
VW calls that system the 5 S's: sift, shine, sort, standardize and sustain.
If workers apply the system properly, their remedies for saving motion and improving communication should deliver both quota and quality, with fewer people, and less of an "ego" factor.
McCord simplifies it. "I've been humbled by what it takes to make a car."