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Dakota pilots built on the line help ensure quality

Earlier this year, the new 2005 Dodge Dakota became the first Chrysler Group vehicle to have its S0 pilot models built at the assembly plant, a move that is helping to ensure better quality and a smoother launch.

Traditionally, during a vehicle program, S0 vehicles—the very first pilots—are built at Pilot Operations (Plant) in Auburn Hills, or at the Plymouth Road Office Complex in Detroit. For the new Dakota, engineers worked with employees at Warren (Mich.) Truck Assembly Plant (Dodge City Complex) to build the S0s on the line at the plant.

“Building S0s here at Dodge City is the single biggest reason we were able to launch the Dakota with such excellent surface quality,” Plant Manager Bob Bowers said. “The engineers came here—where the people are, where the skilled trades are—where they could put it through the rigors of moving and automated systems.”

Tim Tomezak, Senior Manager—Launch, oversaw the process for the Dakota, which wouldn’t have succeeded if not for the support of employees in Advance Manufacturing Engineering (AME), Pilot Operations and the Plymouth Road Office Complex.

“By building S0s here at Dodge City, we were able to prove the capability of our equipment as well as the capability of the product,” Tomezak said. “We found design and process issues in body-in-white and the paint shop, and we were able to resolve the issues much further upstream in the program.”

For example, issues were discovered with the weld guns at the plant, as well as the cure process in the paint shop. Those issues may not have surfaced in Pilot Operations in Auburn Hills or at Plymouth Road because operators there use manual weld guns—not the weld guns that were installed in Dodge City back in 1997, which were unable to penetrate the heavier gauge steel used in the new Dakota.


Shafton Crosson (left) and Harry Austin put trim components on a new Dodge Dakota at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant.

PHOTO CREDIT:
Jeff Jagoda—Warren Truck Assembly Plant


“If we hadn’t built the S0s here,” Bowers said, “we wouldn’t have discovered these issues until S1 (the next stage in the program), and we would have had less time to resolve them.”

Dodge City was able to accommodate the build of S0s because the new Dakota was a “top hat” product, meaning the underbody of the vehicle hadn’t changed from its predecessor; only visible portions of the vehicle were different. This meant that the new Dakota could run on the same line as the version it was about to replace.

At Pilot Operations, typically a team of 15-30 people work on an S0 program. At Dodge City, hundreds of employees had a hand in the vehicles.

“Who better able to spot the problems than the people who build trucks every day?” Bowers said. “We lost some volume during the process, but since we have the capability to overbuild, it wasn’t much. Besides, it’s either pay now or really pay later. With our launch, we’re reaping the rewards.”

Unearthing the issues early allowed the employees at AME to update the processes in a timely fashion, Tomezak said, and it allowed the employees on the launch team to capture operator feedback and ensure station readiness, as well.

“This will now be the standard for future programs,” Bowers said. “I can’t say enough about how running the S0s in our body shop and off of our own tools helped us build quality into the new Dakota.”

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already seen dak's at the dealer, an acquired taste IMHO
 
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