How GM Cut One Tool’s Cost by 99%


What the nation’s largest automaker is doing to cut costs shouldn’t come as a big surprise, but just how much they’re saving might floor you a bit. General Motors just told Automotive News that it had cut the cost of a commonly used production tool by 99 percent.

3D printing is credited with taking a $3,000 tool used to align VINs on the assembly lines and cutting the cost down to $3, and the company says that’s just one of the ways it’s been streamlining production and assembly costs through additive manufacturing.

GM’s Lansing Delta Township Assembly plant produces vehicles like the popular Chevy Equinox. The facility originally invested in a $35,000 3D printer as a way to quickly churn out kitting boxes for assembly parts. But from there, employees quickly began finding new and better ways to utilize the technology.

Besides the aforementioned tool swap, Lansing Delta Township has used the 3D printer for facilities requirements as simple as socket covers, all the way to creating tools for ergonomics and safety. The next challenge in the company’s Manufacturing 4.0 strategy is how to standardize the grab bag of utility that’s come from worker brainstorming and develop some baseline best practices.

Besides additive, Lansing Delta Township has integrated other cutting-edge technologies, including the use of drones for inspections in the 3.6 million square foot facility. They also say they’ve found more than 50 uses for collaborative robots – or cobots – those robots designed to work side-by-side with humans without causing safety incidents. These include things like tire stacking and headlight calibration.

Long term, the company says artificial intelligence could seep into its production lines, though its director of global manufacturing integration, Dan Grieshaber, told Automotive News that while the company is looking into all these areas, “just understanding the data” could be the biggest benefit, and AI might not be necessary for now.

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