Writing about web page http://www.nummi.com
Sign of my first "Great Depression" Time
Now that I've completed the exams of Part A in December, I've finally found some time to relax and enjoy some time off. On January 28, 2009, I decided to attend the Nummi (New United Motor Manufacturing Inc.) plant tour. This is something that I've been wanting to do for years but never found the time to do it due to full-time work, then getting pregnant, and finally having a baby etc... (real valid excuses). So, finally that I'm not working full-time and was lucky enough to find nice babysitters (mother and sister), I was able to work on my To-Do List.
At approximately 1 P.M. on Wednesday, I was greeted by a friendly tour guide by the name of Sara Rogers. Around the same time, I met another attendee and we small-talked our way into the plant.
"Isn't it sad that they are ending the public tour program?", I commented.
"It's a sign of the times.", she said.
"What do you do?", I asked.
"I'm a retired firefighter from the Sunnyvale area and I thought I should attend this tour before it ends." she said.
I never got her first name, but we both shared an underlying feeling of dissappointments as we walked into the main room of New United Motors plant in Fremont, California. Along the walls, I see pictures of the plant conveying the historical progression. Starting in 1984 where the Toyota magnate and the American (General Motors) counterpart signed its first bill to revive the dying motor plant, the New United Motor is now known as one of the most productive manufacturing operations in North America according to J.D. Power quality rankings.
Then, I was surprised to learn that the infamous Chevy Nova was eventually produced here. Well, most of us have heard of the "Nova" marketing failure in South America due to its naming convention. I didn't realize it happened just a stone's throw away from where I live. But as the plant developed, it also made successful cash generators such as the Toyota Corollas for the mid-market folks and Geo Prizms for the young adults.
For many of us who don't know the background of the plant, the Toyota and General Motors joint venture was established in 1984 and has grown extensively for the past 20 years. Incorporating Lean Techniques into the corporate philosophy, the venture successfully employs a unionized based workers that never had a strike and provides great economic impact on local economies. Today, the Nummi plant makes approximately 250,000 sedan and 170,000 trucks under name brands such as Pontiac Vibe and Toyota Voltz. However, I am sure these figures will dwindle in 2009 and most likely 2010.
After a brief presentation by our funny tour guide (Sara Rogers), she led us to the actual plant which was compromisingly loud in nature and a bit cold. We got into a trolley and I almost felt like I am in DisneyLand for an adventurous tour. The atmosphere was very much like a huge city warehouse with the maintenance workers riding around their bicycles following a route and suspended conveyor with half-finished sedans/trucks skeletons being moved around to the next department for final assembly. It felt very much like driving around in the street where they also have traffic lights and stop signs so workers can maneuver around in order.
We went through 3 out of the 5 operations site (stamping, body and weld and assembly). The other two were too far or too toxic for us to witness. e.g. body and paint department is logically not a safe area for us to tour due to the chemicals and constant paint activities being done to the cars. The plant showed the efficiency of the Lean Techniques in which workers were reminded constantly about Kaizen(Continuous Improvement) and Team-Work efforts as well as by Japanese signs like Jidoka(autonomation) and Muda(no waste). They have suggestion boxes for the workers and if their ideas get implemented, they earn Jidoka points which later can be translated into real $. In addition, I saw KanBans (signs for replenishments) everywhere which is another continuous effort to make only what is needed (a Just-In-Time philosophy).
Our tour guide lamented about how empty the plant seemed to be compared to just one year ago when the whole area was bustling with many more workers and crates of supplies. She confirmed that starting in 2009, the plant had to shut down 14 days in January and will only work 3 days out of the week in March and 4 days out of the week in April. This means that most of its workers will be sent home earlier. So far, they have resorted on this system instead of laying people off.
While going around the plant, Sara commented how the folks from Pixar Animation Studios came by to check on the robots. They were specifically interested in the robots' motor skills so that they can make their next blockbuster that we all recognized as "Wall-E."
Other cool facts that I learned from Sara:
-NUMMI, under roof is about the size of 118 football fields or 122 Costco's...5.5 million square feet!
-It takes less than 24 hours from Stamping, Body Weld, Paint, Plastics and Assembly for one vehicle to be built.
-The passenger line is about a mile long, it takes about 6 hours for one car to make it from beginning to end, and about every minute a car comes off the line. The truck line is about 1/2 mile long, takes about 4 hours to assemble a truck, and currently about every 2 minutes a new truck comes off the end of the line.
-Last year Nummi built about 347,000 vehicles.
Overall I was glad to have participated in the tour, I highly recommend it if you live close to the East Bay of San Francisco (The tour stops at the end of this month.) It gives a practical learning approach to the Operations class that I took last year which I found very interesting.
More Interesting Facts: