Trucks, Full-Size Investment:
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When the new Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups start rolling into showrooms later this year what you’ll be seeing is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg because that truck you take for a test drive or wind up placing in your driveway is the pinnacle of a huge financial and engineering investment by General Motors. We recently took a tour of the plant where these trucks will be built and joined a team of engineers as they set out to road test the latest pilot vehicles for a unique behind-the-scenes look at modern pickup manufacturing.
The Colorado and Canyon are known internally at General Motors as the GMT 355 twins and will be built in Shreveport, Louisiana where GM has produced the Chevrolet S-10 and GMC Sonoma compact pickups since 1981.
While S-10 and Sonoma production has continued without interruption at Shreveport, construction of an all new manufacturing facility to handle the Colorado and Canyon has been underway for the past three years. In 2000 GM invested $700-million to create a home for the new pickups in what it hopes will be a model for state-of-the-art auto assembly and integration with suppliers.
What does $700-million buy these days? For starters it added over 1.5-million square feet of expansion to bring Shreveport’s total manufacturing footprint to 2.1-million square feet plus lots of new, highly sophisticated manufacturing technology.
Physical construction of the GMT 355 trucks starts in the body, material handling and stamping areas at the plant and accounts for 450,000-square feet of the new space. Here giant rolls of steel will be unfurled and fed into two mammoth transfer presses made by IHI. 10-stories tall and grounded in 30-foot deep basements, the IHI machines are capable of 5,850-tons of force to stamp out every body panel the Colorado and Canyon need from front fenders to tailgate.
Stamped body components are forwarded to an adjoining 890,000-square foot building for assembly. Shaped like giant cross, this is where the chassis, engine and body panels are snapped together before the trucks are shipped out.
Jim Padgett, Program Director for the Colorado at Shreveport was quick to point out efforts to improve fit-and-finish for the 355 program over its predecessors. Each sub-assembly station along the production line in this building is equipped with a Perceptron measurement system to continuously gauge the fit of 12 different body tolerances from door gaps to hood alignment. Any deviation from pre-defined tolerances can alert the manufacturing team to stop the line until the problem is resolved. Padgett also pointed out that the number of assembly robots used to assemble the new trucks has been doubled to 480 from the 240 robots used to help build the S-10 and Sonoma.
A new 180,000-square foot paint shop replaces the old one with improved ovens, robots, conveyors and an environmentally safer paint process that uses a thermal oxidizer system to clean emissions from the paint spray by scrubbing volatile organic compounds from the air.
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