Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Assembly Work

Last week, General Motors (GM) brought a cadre of journalists to its new assembly plant in Lansing, Mich., where workers build the new GMC Acadia, Saturn Outlook, and Buick Enclave SUVs. They let us work in the training area of the plant for an hour or so building wooden SUVs sized about right for a 5-year-old to drive. They use this mocked-up assembly line to train new workers.

All day long. Grab a handful of nuts, spin them onto a screw, and fasten them down with what is essentially a Dewalt power drill. No matter how quickly you work, the cars keep rolling down the line. If the cars are selling and the line is moving quickly, there's no getting ahead. And if you fall behind, you pull a cord to stop the line and suffer the shame of holding up your co-workers.

The work is dull for an important reason. GM has torn a page from Toyota's (TM) factory book. The company has standardized every task in the plant, making the jobs simple and repetitive in a ceaseless effort to strip out the constant of human error and to catch Toyota and Honda (HMC) when it comes to productivity.

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