ROSARIO, Argentina - General Motors' five-month-old factory here is the model for other lean assembly plants that GM is building in emerging markets.
'We don't want to reinvent the wheel,' said Rudiger Gundacker, Rosario plant manager and former operations manager at GM's ultra-lean plant in Eisenach, Germany.
The Corsa four-door sedan and station wagon designed by GM do Brasil are built in Rosario. The two versions are produced and sold only in South America.
Rosario is the template for plants that GM will open in Gliwice, Poland, in September; Shanghai, China, in April 1999; and Rayong, Thailand, in mid-1999.
At Rosario, GM says it is has taken the lean production methods developed in Eisenach to new levels, although in some ways it is not as lean as Eisenach.
The plant does not have the same level of automation and technology as Eisenach. There are fewer robots in the body shop and no supplier park nearby. For that reason, it will never be as lean as the Eisenach plant in the paint and body shops, said Gundacker.
But Rosario will reach maximum productivity in final assembly faster. The production line began running in October, and is already at a level that the Eisenach plant needed three years to achieve, said Walter Othero, director of manufacturing for GM Argentina.
'We transferred a lot from Eisenach,' said Othero. 'Without this experience, it would have taken many more hours of training.'
The productivity target is that of Japanese makers.
'The Japanese are still very good at plant organization,' said Gundacker. 'But we will compete with them at Rosario.'
The lean production system at Rosario has 36 elements. They range from basic concepts like team production to finely tuned flow systems. Each of the four new GM factories will use the 36 elements, but each plant will vary the order of importance and implementation, said Gundacker.
Plant managers from the four new GM plants meet regularly to discuss progress and problems, Gundacker said. The plants will not be exactly alike, but they will use the same systems.
Unlike Eisenach, Rosario is fully integrated. It has stamping, body, paint and assembly shops and an engine plant.
Capacity is 84,000 units a year, plus 30,000 Silverado pickup truck kits for a kit-assembly plant in nearby Cordoba. Engine capacity is 20 units per day.
Vehicle assembly capacity is expected to double in the next few years. The compact, 37-meter-long assembly line is U-shaped so that capacity can be added without losing production. The complex is built in a T-shape to make future expansion easier.
Assembly of the Corsa four-door began in October. The Corsa station wagon was added last month. The cars are built on the same line. There is room for up to four variants and a second model.
Rosario's engine plant began producing 1.6-liter versions of GM's Family I engines last March. A 1.4-liter gasoline engine will be added eventually. Production of a 1.7-liter Isuzu diesel will begin later this year.
The Rosario plant will eventually build a vehicle in 23.5 man hours. That is higher than Eisenach's rate of 18 hours per vehicle, but includes a higher level of manual work.
Rosario's body shop is 32 percent automated - with just 42 robots - compared with 95 percent at Eisenach. Fewer robots are needed, Gundacker said, because of Rosario's smaller capacity. Argentina's lower labor cost is another factor.
Employees receive about 450 hours of training from managers who have spent time in Eisenach and Brazil. The top 70 managers at Rosario worked at Eisenach.
'Seeing Eisenach in operation was extremely important for us,' said Gundacker. 'We could show them how lean production works. Before Eisenach, we couldn't do that.'
Rosario's high level of standardization helps maintain quality in a plant were many of the workers are unskilled and new to the auto industry.
'With standardized work, the chances for defects are very small,' said Gundacker.
The line doesn't send on defective parts. GM's 'Andon' system - a combination of audio and visual signals and a monitoring board copied from the company's NUMMI joint venture factory with Toyota in California - can stop the line.
The team leader is alerted to a problem with music that is unique for each group. The entire line stops if the problem is not fixed within three minutes.
'Every person in our plant is taught how to solve problems and the results so far are very good,' said Gundacker.
At full capacity in 1999, the teams will have six members. The line is now run with teams of four and at a slower rate to assure quality.
Team leaders have far more responsibility here than at other GM plants, Gundacker said. They are not only charged with solving problems, but with changing procedures.
The average worker at Rosario is 33 years old and earns $900 per month with benefits, slightly above the regional average. As at GM do Brasil, 15 percent of pay is tied to performance. Eisenach employees earn DM4,200 ($2,310) per month.
GM plants in Argentina
Opened: October 1997
Products: Corsa 4-door and 5-door station wagon; engines
Capacity: 84,000 cars
Opened: December 1996
Products: Silverado pickup (CKD); adds Blazer in mid-98