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Six-Speed Transmissions Begin Production At Revamped, Historic
Willow Run Facility
GM announced the start of
production of a new, modular family of Hydra-Matic six-speed
automatic transmissions for rear-drive applications at the
upgraded Willow Run facility in Ypsilanti. The 6L80 six-speed
transmission debuts in the 2006 Chevy Corvette, Cadillac STS-V
and XLR-V, and several models of GM's all-new 2007 full-size SUVs.
Production of the transmissions is
the culmination of a 450-million-dollar, nearly 3-year investment
at the Ypsilanti Transmissions Operations (YTO) facility, which
establishes a new team concept working arrangement in a separate
area of the nearly 65-year-old plant and launches GM's drive to
produce up to three million six-speed transmissions annually. By
2010, GM will introduce 10 variants of six-speed transmissions,
including front-drive models, which can enhance vehicle fuel
economy by up to 4 percent when compared to four- and five-speed
"The introduction of these
new six-speeds will mark a new chapter in GM's 65-year history of
producing efficient, reliable, smooth-shifting automatic
transmissions," said Kent Sears, GM Powertrain vice
president of manufacturing. "The new, state-of-the-art
Ypsilanti transmission facility is the first of many six-speed
plants that will enable us to produce more than three million six-speed
automatics annually by 2010."
The investment at Willow Run,
announced in 2003, literally establishes a new plant within a
plant, due to a new work agreement. The result preserved nearly
600 jobs and precluded building a brand-new facility.
Approximately 20 percent of the 4.8-million-square-foot facility
was gutted and refitted for six-speed production. This included a
new floor, enhanced lighting, new paint and the creation of a
clean-room assembly area, which is separated from the rest of the
six-speed facility with glass walls and automated doors. Also,
new production machinery and machines designed for worker safety
"Manufacturing at Willow Run
has been a part of the southeast Michigan community since 1939,"
said Kingsley P. Wootton, plant manager. "Our strong
partnership with UAW Local 735 resulted in a unique work
agreement that ensures we continue this tradition with new six-speeds
that are competitively produced world-class products."
Wootton also said that a strong
partnership with the Ypsilanti township and state and federal
officials in Michigan helped ensure that the plant would remain a
competitive, state-of-the-art manufacturing force in the region.
The historic Willow Run plant
dates back to the early 1940s, when it produced war planes during
World War II. In fact, the plant's configuration sloped from west
to east, so finished planes could be easily rolled out of the
east doors and on to the expansive Willow Run runway. It was
converted to a dedicated transmission plant in 1953, after a fire
destroyed another transmission facility in Livonia, Mich.
A new team concept working
arrangement was developed for the six-speed production facility,
which includes members of UAW Local 735 and salaried employees.
The team concept arrangement includes cohesive teams of four to
six members, with a designated leader to promote efficient, more
immediate production value. All team members were interviewed via
a joint selection process from Local 735 applicants.
Team members also worked with
engineering personnel for 24 months prior to production launch to
provide input on product design and its impact on manufacturing.
This empowerment resulted in product and process improvements
that enable more efficient manufacturing and higher-quality
A heightened safety initiative
also was launched with the team concept arrangement, with a
workplace goal of "zero incidents." Procedures and
equipment to facilitate this goal include the elimination of
conventional fork trucks on the floor - replaced with "tugger"
vehicles. Also, all equipment was assessed through a joint safety
committee with the goal of eliminating hazards.
Three product focus business teams
fabricate and sub-assemble transmission components, each
delivering sub-assembled products to the main line. These sub-assemblies
are then integrated into the transmission case on the main line
to produce a finished transmission. The business teams include:
- The gears and shafts business
team, which consists of gear machining, shaft and drive
welding, machining and sub-assembly.
- The prismatic business team,
which conducts machining of the transmission case, bell,
valve body and cover, as well as their sub-assemblies.
- The assembly business team,
which consists of clutch sub-assembly, transmission
assembly, testing and "button up" finishing
All material is delivered to the
teams via "pull" systems - also known as "just in
time" - to the point of use. Transmissions are assembled in
a clean room environment to reduce sediment and improve quality.
"The precision and attention
to detail of the manufacturing process are world-class,"
said Wootton. "Machined components tolerances are measured
in microns - that's millionths of an inch. This precision
will bolster GM's reputation for smooth, reliable transmissions."
GM's six-speed transmissions are
validated to 200,000 miles, or more, of service and the Ypsilanti
Transmission Operations' "zero defects" mantra helps
ensure trouble-free performance. Numerous quality check stations
prevent defective or inaccurate parts from continuing down the
Upon final assembly, every six-speed
transmission is hot-tested for up to four minutes. This includes
connecting the transmission to a motor and running it through the
gears, as well as spinning it at various rpm levels. All
performance parameters are checked, as well as noise levels.
GM's new Hydra-Matic 6L80
transmission is the first of a new family of modular six-speed
rear-drive transmissions. The transmissions feature two overdrive
gears and a wide, 6.04:1 gear ratio spread to improve performance
and fuel economy when compared with conventional four- and five-speed
automatic transmissions. With two overdrive gears, engine rpm is
reduced by approximately 9 percent at 60 mph - a reduction to
about 1,500 rpm. Lower engine rpm can bolster fuel economy
because less fuel is used. A lower-rpm cruising speed also
enhances smoothness and reduces noise heard in the vehicle's
GM estimates the wide ratio spread
can help cut 0-60 mph times by as much as 7 percent and enhance
fuel economy by up to 4 percent.
Engineering the all-new Hydra-Matic
six-speed transmission with a modular architecture enabled
engineers and designers to design a transmission that is easily
adapted to a wide range of vehicles. Equally important, the new
six-speed automatic's modular design means any of the four
primary variants can be manufactured in the same assembly plant.
The modular design of the
transmission permits several versions of the transmission to be
tailored with minimal changes to the precise performance
requirements of different vehicles. As many as 47 percent of all
components are common for all four transmission variants. In
fact, the new transmission design is so flexible that different
variants theoretically could run sequentially down the same
assembly line. The new six-speed automatic's manufacturing plan
dovetails completely with GM's Global Manufacturing System
strategy to implement a common manufacturing process and
procedure at every worldwide GM assembly plant.
Technically sophisticated clutch-to-clutch
operation reduces complexity and packaging. It also enhances the
performance feel of the transmission, as shifts feel more
immediate and precise. It is a simple, less complex design that
enables the six-speed transmission to be packaged in a size not
much larger than a four-speed automatic.
It all means the all-new six-speed
RWD automatic will maintain Hydra-Matic's reputation for world-class
refinement and durability while also continuing GM Powertrain's
ongoing initiative to produce the world's most durable and
reliable engines and transmissions. In fact, GM Powertrain
engineers are confident the combination of the new transmission's
modular architecture and the integration of GM's Global
Manufacturing System common manufacturing processes will ensure
the new six-speed RWD automatic is as reliable and durable as any
transmission carrying the respected Hydra-Matic name.
YTO's six-speed facility is
currently configured to produce up to 1,500 transmissions per day.
The facility can also produce different versions of the
transmission concurrently, with minimal changeover. The six-speed
RWD transmissions will be featured in 25 different models
globally by 2007.
In addition to the Hydra-Matic six-speed
RWD family, GM recently introduced the new Allison 1000 six-speed
automatic for Duramax diesel-equipped heavy-duty trucks. GM also
will introduce a Hydra-Matic six-speed automatic for front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive
vehicles; it debuts in the 2007 Saturn Aura sedan. GM also will
produce six-speed transmissions at additional facilities in
Michigan and Europe. GM Powertrain and GM Daewoo are working to
develop six-speed transmissions for front-drive global