Something unique is happening in Toledo, Ohio: A major automotive machine shop is being transformed and rejuvenated, and when the work is through in the next five years, the odds are that the inside of the plant won't be recognizable.
DaimlerChrysler AG is spending $700 million to change its Toledo Machining Plant from making steering columns and torque converters into a shop that will make parts for V-6 engines over the next five years.
That plant was built in 1967 to supply steering column and other turned parts to Chrysler Corporation, and has about 1,400 workers. It will lose about 800 jobs in the conversion, but DaimlerChrysler threatened to close the plant the UAW local there refused to go along with the changes. The UAW local at the plant approved the changes by a 75 percent margin.
Automotive plants—especially 40-year-old auto plants—typically are designed to do one thing. Changing their direction and operation is unusual. Besides changing the parts that will be coming out of the plant, the UAW approved contract changes to cut job classifications at the plant to two, to implement teamwork on the shop floor and to change the plant's work week to four, 10-hour days.
Details of the changes in the plant have not been released—so the amount of turning versus milling that will go on are not known; but from the little information that Daimler-Chrysler has allowed to escape, it appears that metal stamping operations that now are done at the plant will be moved. As new equipment is put into place, the facility is likely to have a much more flexible operating concept, and it's likely to have more milling and multi-axis machining than it has ever had before.
A report published in the Toledo Blade newspaper quoted UAW Local 1435 officials as saying that Daimler-Chrysler would move steering column work to non-Chrysler factories starting next year, and stamped metal products will be moved elsewhere by 2009. Production of torque converters will be eliminated at the plant by 2013.
As those products leave, new machine tools will be installed to produce cylinder blocks, cylinder heads and crankshafts and engine assembly work—on Chrysler's new V-6 engine —will begin by 2011.