Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 24, 2013

Bringing the academy to the plant

Chrysler brings WCM mobile unit to Kokomo.

By Scott Smith Kokomo Tribune
Kokomo Tribune

---- — When Fiat took control of Chrysler Group LLC, the Italian manufacturing giant brought along a commitment to World Class Manufacturing, the company’s own quality production system.

At Fiat, and now at Chrysler, “WCM is how we do our business. Period,” Mauro Pino, vice president for vehicle assembly operations and the Head of World Class Manufacturing in the Chrysler Group, told the continuous improvement blog better-operations.com.

What is WCM? The answer is complex, but at its core, it’s a discipline aimed at eliminating waste and improving efficiency in the manufacturing process.

It’s all-encompassing and no aspect of the operation is immune. From discovering the hidden costs of poor housekeeping, to the efficiencies generated by having team members’ work stations positioned properly, everything is prompted by an in-house investigation called a “kaizen,” the Japanese term for “improvement,” or “change for the best.”

Ever since the Fiat merger in 2009, managers from every Chrysler plant have been traveling to the company’s WCM Academy in Warren, Mich., where they participate in hands-on training in problem solving.

That training has paid dividends: managers have new eyes for the way day-to-day operations flow.

The success of those training sessions left company officials wondering how to get the same kind of training to the team members working shifts at the plants.

The answer came in the form of the company’s Dodge Motorsports semi-trailer, which has been converted into a mobile classroom space.

The converted big rig made its first stop outside of Warren this week at Chrysler’s Kokomo Transmission Plant.

“Now we can bring the academy directly to the plants,” said Wendy Santure, training and development lead at the WCM Academy.

By expanding WCM knowledge “deeper into the plants,” Santure said the company can ensure all the employees are using the method.

WCM is one of numerous continuous improvement systems which spun off from the work of American management specialist W.E. Deming and others in post-World War II Japan.

It engages the workforce to provide and implement suggestions on how to improve their jobs and their plants.

Forget the idea of a “suggestion box;” the WCM method involves teaching employees how to write a complete report on specific problems, outlining the problem in full before moving on to a second phase in which a fix is contemplated.

In the final phase of the “Quick Kaizen,” employees try their best to identify the cost-benefit of the changes. Company leaders can then compare between all of the Quick Kaizens they’ve received to prioritize them, with the Kaizens with the most cost-benefit ranked highest.

When the academy trainers come to the plants, they bring more than just a dry classroom presentation. Everything is interactive, from sketching out problems on a Wii to watching 3D videos using special glasses, the presentations are designed to engage the adult learner, explained Greg Marquardt, a lead trainer representing the United Auto Workers union.

Students who attend the mobile unit’s courses will participate in three rotations. During the rotations, 42 students will take classes inside the unit, as well as underneath a canopy attached to the trailer. A minimum of three academy staff members, including trainers and facilitators, will travel with the unit on each trip.

“By coming to the plants, we can increase the number of Chrysler Group employees who can call themselves ‘students of the academy,’” said Santure. “The benefits of increasing WCM know-how are countless, and the mobile unit enables us to bring WCM knowledge to those who may not be able to travel to the academy on a regular basis.”

In addition to the standard academy courses, future plans for the mobile unit include training in specialized topics and hosting validation events, the final step of verifying that lessons learned at the academy have been applied properly to a plant project.

The WCM Academy opened its doors in January 2012 and occupies about 25,000-square-feet of the UAW-Chrysler Technology Training Center in Warren, Mich. The academy was created to accelerate WCM implementation by combining classroom and laboratory sessions, with the emphasis on hands-on exercises in problem solving. With a mission to transfer WCM “know-how,” the academy trained more than 3,400 workers from across the company’s North American manufacturing facilities in its first year, far exceeding its goals. Those participating in classes apply their knowledge to begin making improvements as soon as they return to their plants.

In May, the WCM Academy received top honors in the 2013 Manufacturing Leadership 100 (ML100) Awards, being named a high achiever in the new workforce category. The high achiever award recognized the company for receiving the highest score in the category, which identifies companies that involve education and training, knowledge management and transfer, and collaboration with educational institutions as integral to the advancement of manufacturing.