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January 03, 2003
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GM's Global Manufacturing System - A System To Build Great Cars and Trucks

Photo: GM

To be more competitive in the global automotive industry, General Motors is concentrated on some key priorities; get common; think lean and run fast; compete on a global basis; grow the business and most importantly-focus on the product.

GM Manufacturing is dedicated to lean and common as demonstrated by a single, global manufacturing approach - a strategy that is changing the way it designs its products, lays out plants, selects equipment and design each assembly plant operator's job.

The GM Global Manufacturing System-or GMS-is an important building block of an integrated strategy to develop products that excite our customers in markets around the world.


GM is bringing together the best, most competitive manufacturing practices from around the world and leveraging what it has learned as it moves to a common global manufacturing system for all of its new plants and existing facilities.

The system is dynamic. With each new plant or renovation of a current plant, it is further refined and implemented with regional variation, based on the individual plant environment, supplier capability, vehicle architecture and cultural factors.

The GMS is generating solid results. It has been proven at the company's newest global plants and its executing the strategy in North America at higher levels and a faster pace. GMS is a system built around people. The system stresses the value of teamwork, and is based on an underlying philosophy that everyone, in every position, adds value. In an empowered environment, everyone's experience and insights are valued.

At the heart of the system is the operator in the plant - the person who builds GM's great products. Plants and processes are designed around providing support for the operators and teams on the plant floor, so they can efficiently build great vehicles that provide our customers with higher quality, value and responsiveness.

Several factors played a role in the evolution of GM's GMS. The experience gained through NUMMI, a joint venture with Toyota provided the introduction of the Toyota Production System techniques into GM.

GM's newest plants in Eisenach, Germany; Shanghai, China and Rosario, Argentina also helped lay the foundation for today's GMS. These new plants take the experiences from NUMMI to the next level. These plants embody best-in-class manufacturing techniques and serve as models for all of our plants. In addition, GM's new plant in Brazil, which extensively uses concepts of co-design and a systems approach, is a key building block of GMS.

Continuous focus is placed on research of best practices of GM's competitors and joint venture partners, along with forging closer ties with suppliers to include a much greater willingness to accept alternate or new ideas.

Manufacturing performance is improved through the consistent adoption of five principals-people involvement, standardization, built in quality, short lead time and continuous improvement. The principals are interrelated and implemented as a complete system. When implemented, the GMS principals maximize performance in the areas of people systems, safety, quality, customer responsiveness and cost.

People: Products, plants and processes are designed to allow GM's people to use their skills and abilities as efficiently as possible. Workers are organized into small teams trained and empowered to run their areas and are dedicated to problem solving and continuous improvement.

GM is working with the UAW and its other unions on many aspects of GM's people systems strategy. This includes maintaining a high level of communication and cooperation with the UAW, IUE and other unions.

The communications process and environment are dedicated to helping employees understand their work and allowing them to have input into improvement in their jobs. The traditional role of supervisor changes to be more of coach or teacher, and leaders receive an intensive training program in both lean manufacturing and people skills.

Improved people systems, with a focus on the operator, and improved material handling help to attain world-class competitiveness. The system allows direct-to-the-line delivery of material, eliminating the need for costly inventory while providing a safety benefit through the elimination of forklift trucks needed to move materials around general assembly.

Safety: GM is the industry benchmark in safety, a goal achieved through a strong partnership between GM and its unions. In 1994 safety was made the "overriding priority." GM and the UAW jointly benchmark safety programs at top automotive and non-automotive companies to ensure that . GM's workers realize a healthy, injury-free environment.

Quality: Developing vehicles that are simpler to build and use fewer parts enhances quality. The team concept is a critical part of managing quality by making each team responsible for managing quality in their area. Team members receive extensive training in identifying and solving problems and in quality systems such as the Andon system to request assistance and even stop production in their area if necessary to remedy problems. Error proofing strategies also enhance first-time product quality.

Responsiveness: GM's manufacturing strategy maximizes customer responsiveness, by responding fast to customer and market trends. GM is shifting from a "make-and-sell" to a "sense-and-respond" organization. A make-and-sell organization predicts what the market will want, makes it and then tries to sell it. It's a system based on high-volume manufacturing but doesn't allow GM to respond fast to a fragmented market and changing consumer tastes. Sense-and-respond is all about moving with speed in a market that is evolving to fragmented, niche products with less volume per entry, and being flexible enough to deal with uncertainty and generate options for the product and the customer.

Another fundamental of the system is an emphasis on responding fast to customer and market trends. This flexibility begins with developing vehicles that are simpler to build. Flexible global vehicle architectures allow GM to more easily build cars, trucks and crossovers off the same architecture in one or more plants.

Cost: GM's manufacturing system concentrates on cost savings by eliminating all forms of waste that detract from our ability to be competitive. GM is pursuing leanness in all facets of production - from the design of the manufacturing buildings to allow for point-of-use material delivery, to the elimination of inventory and improved supplier responsiveness.

Machinery and equipment are purchased as integrated systems, not as bits and pieces. A lean, more efficient plant structure allows lower capital investment. As many manufacturers have realized, allowing the supply base to participate in the design and processing of a product and leverage its global learnings is smart business. A higher level of trust and involvement with the supply base help GM to leverage their capability as well as available GM internal resources. Computer technology is playing a role in enabling GM to take waste out of the system. Virtual reality and math-based applications are used to reduce development costs and improve overall efficiency in the development life cycle. To help ensure that equipment and processes support operators GM uses 3-D math modeling to create a "virtual factory" that helps planners integrate equipment, tools, fixtures and machinery that will be used in the plant.

(Jan 02, 2003)

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