Friday, January 20, 2012

Domestic Plant Trek - Week 1, Part 2

Day 4 – A full day with GM
Woke up at 5AM to drive over an hour north to GM’s Lansing Delta Township Plant.  We saw basically all their facilities on this campus – from stamping to the body shop to general assembly.  This plant makes cross overs.  Everyone there was friendly, excited about their product and enthusiastic about having us there.  They gave us a great set of tours.  They showed us so much that I actually can’t remember all the details.

The facilities even though they were in separate large buildings were connected by tunnels or bridges (tubes) so that the cars could stay climate controller throughout the entire assembly process.  We were also able to see techs driving the vehicles off the line.  One of their union leaders, who was leading another tour group of LGOs let them get in the cars when they drove off the line!  I spoke quite a bit with Kurt Wiese who was in my tour group.  He’s an executive director at GM and, besides finding out more about the company from him; I found out that he went to high school a few streets away from where I lived when I worked in Ann Arbor.
All the exhibits at the North American International Auto Show
Besides seeing GM’s plants, they hosted us with tickets to and a reception at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Hall in Detroit.  Even though I had lived in metro Detroit, I had never been to the auto show or Cobo Hall.  It was pretty neat seeing all the concept cars, getting to sit in fancy ones and just see what each company was thinking of for the future.  Lots of familiar brands had displays, but there also was a Tesla exhibit, a Maserati exhibit and a car by a brand called Falcon, I think I read that they’re made in Michigan with corvette engines, but I could be mixing things up.  From watching Top Gear, I know that corvette engines actually pop up in a number of different vehicles.
Sitting with Eugene in a Bentley!
The BMW i8 - this concept car was used in Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol
The sporty version of the new Fiat500 - I sat in both this and the Mini and liked the Fiat more
After a super long day at factories and the Auto Show, I got back to my friend’s house around 10PM, called home to wish my sister and dad happy birthday and then went to sleep.

Day 5 – Ford and Flying
Got to sleep in (relatively).  Call for being on the bus was 7:55 instead of 6AM.  We went to the Ford Truck Plant in Dearborn, MI, where they make all the F-150s.  With all the different models and specification choices on these trucks, customers could order any one of 580,000 combinations.  While GM had a number of LGO or Sloan affiliated people at the facility we visited, Ford did not appear to have any at this location.  Henry Ford III, is a Sloan MBA ’10, but I heard he is now working out in California.

It was cool to see Ford and GM back to back so we could have one in mind when we saw the other.  GM’s facility seemed to be more full of levels of equipment and stages of assembly, but I don’t know if that was because they made a greater variety of vehicles or did more manual assembly or what.  Not sure.  Even whether GM did more manual assembly than Ford is just my guess.  At both facilities though, all the tracks and wheels and levels and whirring to move the car pieces around reminded me of a roller coaster and so I really wanted to ride one after those tours.  No luck though.  Cedar Point (park with tons of coasters in Ohio) was too far of a drive.

We spent just a half day at Ford, grabbed lunch in the area and then drove off to DTW, Detroit’s airport.  We took Frontier Airlines, which I had never flown on, to Denver which we called “the windy brotherly emerald apple city of love” and “the lone star state” (we were punchy at this point) and then on to our final destination, Seattle, where we settled in at our hotel (just blocks from the Space Needle) for our Boeing visit the next day.
The Space Needle by night, taken from in front of the Experience Music Project Museum building (designed by Frank Ghery, architect of the Stata Center on MIT's campus) - I know it's a dark photo :-(
The funny thing is that both Frontier planes were Airbus planes, so, thank you Airbus for taking us to Boeing.  We had worried about making our 45 min connection in Denver, but, turns out, the gates were only eight away from each other in the same terminal and I was even able to grab some dinner in between.  Frontier Airlines’ defining feature, other than making people with carry-ons board after everyone else and actually having you measure your bags to those carry-on sizing things, is that they give you chocolate chip cookies midway to late in the flight.  My row did a cookie time dance on our second flight segment.  As I said, we were getting punchy.

Day 6 – Boeing Tour
Boeing involved waking up early, but not extremely early and it was pretty to see the early sky getting brighter around Mt. Rainier in the background.  It turned out to be a sunny day in Seattle which led me to conclude that perhaps we had landed somewhere that just looked a lot like Seattle.  I thought it was supposed to rain all the time!

At Boeing we congregated in their MIC conference room (management information center) and then split into two groups.  My group went to the paint hanger first where we saw a very clean painting operations and learned how manual and time consuming it still was, even with the equipment they did have.  Many paint colors, such as light blue take many coats of paint because they are relatively transparent.  Also, they are hard to match, so if there are any defects, they often have to completely repaint the area with that color.  I forget if it was all the coats of paint, or just one coat, but paint on a plane adds an additional 250-500 pounds of weight!  So, from that perspective, many airlines stick with white bodies and a logo – less weight equals less fuel burn.

From the paint hangar, we went to the flight line, which is kind of like a giant driveway where they park planes when they are ready for customer inspection.  Customers are given as much time as they want to walk through the inside and around the outside of the plane to make sure it meets their specifications.  There was a Lion Air (based in Indonesia) plane that was ready for inspection and so, while they would not let us on the plane, we got to peek in basically any compartment that could open to the outside, as well as the engines and wings where covers had been lifted.  I finally got to see how big a checked luggage compartment was on a 737 and, honestly, it was smaller than I thought.

The flightline was outside and in Seattle that day it was in the mid-30s.  They had told us that since we wouldn’t have the same bus the whole day, we should only bring what we wanted to carry.  Therefore, a bunch of people left their jackets at the hotel.  They didn’t tell us that part of the tour would be outside and so this was a rather unfortunate combination.

The paint hangar and the flight line were basically next to each other, but for the next part of the tour, we took a bus up to their history of flight museum where we would be having lunch.  They had planned for us to arrive at the museum and have lunch pretty quickly, but we arrived early and so were left in a holding pattern of sorts in the lobby only able to explore the gift shop.  They didn’t let us down into the exhibits to help kill time.  We were able to go up to an observation deck and see a 747 take off, but, again, it was cold. :-(

Lunch was excellent though and we ate with many execs from different departments of Boeing.  I forget which one has more alumni, Intel or Boeing, but Boeing is in the top two for number of LGO alumni at a partner company.  This is partly due to their tenure with the program though, they’ve been partners basically since the beginning.

After lunch we went to their manufacturing facilities – we saw 787s and 747s being built and actually got to walk through each of those airplanes that were partially completed.  This was the first time and probably only time for a while (if ever?) that I could go into the cockpit of one of those airplanes.  It was pretty neat.  The building where all this took place is also the world’s largest building by volume and has the world’s largest mural on its side.  An airplane and all the equipment that is necessary to make it, is not small.

Finally, we went to the Boeing Dreamliner Gallery. The Dreamliner is the 787, their newest airplane, and currently four are in use in the world (Japan), and the rest are still being made. I think they said that they have pre-orders for something like 1000 of them. This gallery was built to simplify customer ordering and to show them all the pre-set options for the plane – they can try out seats, walk into restrooms, mock up galley spaces and pick out fabrics and colors. Boeing charges $1M if a customer would like to deviate from their catalog of choices. This facility basically serves as a big showroom for how customers can put together a plane and helps streamline the spec-ing process. After the Dreamliner gallery it was back to our hotel and off to have dinner with a friend who lives in the area.

NOTE: I basically just have photos of the auto show because none of the facilities we visited allowed us to take photos inside them.  Therefore, you will see more of what we did outside of the companies in the photos and have to just read about our plant visits.

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