In last summer’s Subaru Drive magazine, SIA’s manufacturing process was delineated, with emphasis on how the plant produces a premium vehicle. Consult Summer 2004 Drive for background on the assembly processes by going to www.drivesubaru.com.
For the all-new flagship Subaru B9 Tribeca, SIA set out to improve its procedures and equipment. Part of its preparation included an investment of $300 million on equipment and manufacturing over the last four years.
The quality of the vehicles produced at SIA is of utmost importance. This is emphasized by a banner in the associates’ entryway to the plant: “Zero Defects. Our customers demand it. We must deliver it.” In its approach to the development and building of the Subaru B9 Tribeca, SIA has taken a number of steps to ensure quality and customer satisfaction from design through assembly.
Quality in the Subaru B9 Tribeca began with design. Its designers benchmarked competitive vehicles, then developed parts and components that improved on the benchmarks. No compromises were allowed throughout development and engineering.
During development, the designers were involved in testing the components. They brainstormed every process to determine possible failure modes (a process called, “Failure Mode Effects Analysis”). This better-enabled them to catch where a part might fail, then engineer the fix for it. Having designers involved at this point in the process was a departure from previous procedures.
SIA associates on the Subaru B9 Tribeca line were given comprehensive on-the-job training. That training took place at workstations rather than a training area away from the line. Workstation training is more realistic and practical, giving the associates a better feel for their positions in the line.
Another part of the training was in Subaru heritage and product. Associates were given the history of Subaru from the time it manufactured airplanes to the present day. Product training covered such information as the Subaru model lineup, the five different Subaru All-Wheel Drive systems and what a Boxer® engine is. Associates also were introduced to the Subaru customer, so that the people who will use the vehicle will be in mind at each workstation as the vehicle is assembled.
This type of training complements the Subaru belief in “Think. Feel. Drive.”
Subaru product and heritage training also is provided for the B9 Tribeca’s suppliers. As a result, they identify better with the Subaru brand. Subaru training encourages them to produce parts of improved quality.
In the body shop, associates use various methods to check the quality of the welds that hold together a vehicle’s body, including visual checks and testing with a hammer and chisel. Also, parts are destroyed to determine the strength of the welds. With the B9 Tribeca, SIA associates use ultrasonic inspections to confirm weld quality without requiring destruction or compromise.
The 815 ultrasonic inspections represent more than half the quality checks in the body shop. Adding to quality control, only qualified associates perform the ultrasonic checks.
ASSEMBLY LINE STATIONS
Quality checks are made all along the manufacturing line. Time has been built into the production schedule to allow associates at each station to check their own work – acting as their own quality control. Each associate knows best what should be done at his or her own station.
Some assembly stations use Pokayoke Control Boxes to track the station’s steps for each vehicle in the line. The boxes won’t allow the vehicle to proceed until all steps are finished. These and other controls ensure that procedures have been completed properly and done within specifications.
One of the key areas contributing to quality is SIA’s Flexible Manufacturing System (FMS). FMS allows the body shop to manufacture wagon, sedan and SUV bodies from floor pan, sides, crossmembers and roofs at one location in the assembly process. Robotic jigs change for each vehicle type.
The body sections for each vehicle are brought together by the jigs, which change for each of the models as they move down the line. Robots weld together the sections to make unitized body shells, which are spot-welded in more than 4,000 places in the body shop.
Jigs rotate, slide and move in and out for the different models, like finely trained dancers executing movements with optimal precision. That’s one of the reasons for FMS – to enhance precision. The other is consistency, which cannot be attained when the bodies are welded manually. Robots make it possible to assemble the body parts exactly the same way each time.
Because FMS requires precision in jigs that must alternate during production, overall quality improves. The system required the addition of approximately 150 robots in the body shop. Approximately 97 percent of the work in the body shop is done by robots.
The first production B9 Tribeca models rolled off the SIA assembly line on April 4, 2005. SIA plans on producing more than 26,000 Subaru B9 Tribeca models by the end of the 2005 calendar year.
Expectations for the B9 Tribeca’s future are high at SIA (and all of Subaru). It anticipates that the vehicle and related models will account for 50,000 units of the plant’s annual production volume. This will make a significant contribution to the projected growth of Subaru in the U.S. market.