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Building on Tradition
A Tour of Lansing Delta Township Assembly
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By Brian Dreggors

NOTE: As our cameras were not cleared by GM, I don't have any pictures inside the plant itself, but there was a cleared photographer with us. I'll post more pictures when I can.

You have to put it into perspective that the birthplace of GM's newest crossovers may be modern, but its hardly new. You see, Lansing has been building automobiles for over 100 years - since 1897, to be exact - so the general concept its decidedly old hat to the 550,000 people of Michigan's capital. What started here five score and ten years ago was thanks to one Ransom E. Olds, a budding automobile maker that would begin what would eventually become Olds Motor Works and an integral part of the infant General Motors empire.

Over the years, Oldsmobile's roots in the town grew and it served not only as the division's headquarters, but also where the vast majority of Olds cars were born - Eighty-Eight, Toronado, Cutlass, and 442 are but a few of the historic nameplates to hail from plants in and around Lansing. In the 1980s, reorganization spelled an end to exclusivity and once Olds-only factories began churning out Buicks, Cadillacs, Pontiacs, and Chevrolets, among them the well-noted N-body compacts led by the Cutlass Calais. Fittingly, the last N-body to roll off the line was also the last Oldsmobile, a Cherry Metallic 2004 Alero sedan. Born here, died here was Oldsmobile - right here in Lansing.

And though the death of the Olds line seemed to be a reflection of GM's place in the American automotive landscape, it was certainly not the end of Lansing. Today, GM operates four major manufacturing plants in the area, including the state-of-the-art Grand River Cadillac plant and Delta Township, which manufactures the Lambda crossovers.

Lansing Delta Township
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Located on a sprawling acreage like all large factories, the first thing you notice about LDT is how damn ugly the it looks; no, not the factory, but the environment around it. I guess I consider it ugly because I'm used to 'pretty' landscaping with lush, thick grass and verdent green foliage fertilized, watered, and neatly-kempt. And while the grass around LDT is kept in check, not much else is done to it. That's because GM's newest factory is all about having as minimal impact on the surrounding envrionment as possible. Their efforts are proudly showcased with U.S. Green Building Council's LEED-Gold Certification, this first given to any factory and the largest building thus far to receive it. From waterless urinals and collecting rainwater to flush toilets to recycling powder primer when painting bodies, LDT is a very clean operation. Energy usage is minimized by robotic spot welding in the dark, using floodlamps only to illuminate problem areas for human inspectors. I've been told the paint shop will soon be running in the dark, too.

'Clean' also describes how the trim assembly area of the plant looks, too. Very clean as well as well-lit. Its almost unbelievable that cars are being assembled here. Painted bodyshells are moved along individual platforms through different workstations where instrument panels, consoles, insultation, and other components are added. Special risers called 'skillets' allow the the entire body to be raised to facilite easier installation of certain parts.

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All this is the result of GMS or Global Manufacturing Strategy. First adopted at an Opel plant in Germany, the Cadillac factory at Grand River was the first US facility to be built around GMS. Using a flexible T-layout, materials are delivered on a time-sensitive basis with often only minutes passing by from delivery to installation on the car. Union workers also work in conjunction with management to find solutions to problems and are rewarded for doing so. A few of the worker-suggested innovations we saw was a seat mounted on a movable gantry that moved at the same pace as the bodyshell through a station. This allowed workers to easily move in and out to assemble trim details rather than clamber and climb through the bodyshell.

Attention to quality is amazing here as care is taken to minimize any contact between finished paint and foreign objects like rings or watches. At the end of the line under ultrabright lamps, about ten people engage in a quality audit of each vehicle, measuring with their eyes and calipers everything from clearcoat quality to gap tolerances. Mistakes are fixed before final shipment.

Automation plays an important but intelligent role at LDT. Instead of robots doing the work, robots assist human workers. For instance, drivetrain components are assembled by people in a different area of the plant onto individual trolleys. These trolleys then literally drive themselves over to the moving assembly line approximately 50 yards away for the marriage of drivetrain and bodyshell. The trolley then drives itself back for another drivetrain assemblage. This augmentation instead of replacement ensures that both men and machine are used to their best abilities.

Lambdas and the Future
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Some quick facts:
  • Its takes approximately 18 manhours to assemble one Lambda, from frame to paint to trimout.
  • Running two shifts, a little over 700 vehicles leave the plant each day, Monday through Friday.
  • Lambdas feature more spotwelds than any other GM vehicle currently produced.
  • Enclaves, AWD drivetrains, and sunroofs aren't assembled back-to-back. Since they require a little extra work, spacing them out along the line ensures that they don't bog down the other vehicles.
  • Lambdas are designed with an open architecture, meaning the entire front clip forward of the firewall is assembled as as seperate stage. This give line workers better access to parts of the vehicle during assembly.
  • Not one exterior body panel on the Enclave is shared with the Outlook or Acadia and the vast majority of interior components are different.
  • Enclaves get much thicker insulation in the roof, engine, and door panels. Trust me; I've seen them. You could probably fall asleep on the roof foam!
When I visited LDT last week, the product mix seemed about one Enclave and one OUTLOOK for every Acadia. This represents the ramp-up of the Enclave which just began production that Monday, as well as a response to the lagging sales of the OUTLOOK. This signifies just how flexible the new plant is and how overproduction for the sake of keeping the plant running isn't necessary.

Lesson learned at LDT will be applied next to Spring Hill's massive renovation and one product produced at the Tenneessee plant will be the yet-unnamed Chevrolet version of the Lambda. Details are sketchy, but word from several at the LDT plant was that it was not a simple badge-job, that it differs in more ways than the OUTLOOK and Acadia differ from each other. However, it will not not feature sliding doors. We will see as time draws closer.

If you are an interested purchaser of a Buick Enclave, GMC Acadia, or Saturn OUTLOOK, I just have to say 'enjoy' because you're crossover is being assembled at what may be the finest facility in North America.

* Notes from the Board - Saturn Brand Advocate Board Meeting Recap
* Saturn's New Retail Look - A first look at the new face of Saturn dealerships
* The GM Heritage Center - A photographic tour of GM's most historic collection
* The Near-Future of Saturn - Get updated on the SKY, AURA, Astra, and come along for a quick drive in the 2008 VUE!
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Every single one of these writings is a masterpiece ... very nicely done. And, must've been a neat experience for you to be able to participate. Thanks for sharing your experiences with C&G.

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Every single one of these writings is a masterpiece ... very nicely done. And, must've been a neat experience for you to be able to participate. Thanks for sharing your experiences with C&G.

I concur, Excellent work and extremely well written.

You should have told me you were coming to Lansing, I would have bought you lunch and gave you a tour of the rest of the capitol city. I would have liked to show you the Chevy dealership I work at. We are the oldest Chevy dealer in town. 53 years young!!! Hell , I COULD HAVE PICKED UP MY CALANDERS EVEN! :rolleyes: (jk) I live only 1 mile or so from the plant in Beautiful Grand Ledge.

I hope you had a great visit to our fair city!!!! :thumbsup:

Edited by prototype66
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