DaimlerChrysler’s Toledo plant is a unique example of cost-efficient, integrator-led design and building. AMS looks at how virtual engineering and supplier collaboration has provided a facility for the future.

The Toledo North Assembly Plant, home of the Jeep Liberty and, more recently, the Dodge Nitro, may have been built five years ago but it remains a model of how integrators and the use of cutting edge 3D technology can deliver plants substantially cheaper than the norm, and ones that work straight off the bat.

But if you ask Frank Ewasyshyn, DaimlerChrysler Executive Vice President of Manufacturing, what makes the $750m plant stand out from the crowd, he responds with a four-letter word – cost.

And that was before earnings took a nosedive and cutting costs took on an urgency not envisioned four years previously when the new Toledo plant was an idea taking three-dimensional shape on a computer screen.

Project integrators

Before we leap into the world of virtual manufacturing though, a word or two about the people involved in the project. Although Ewasyshyn talks about his engineers and the involvement in the design, building and commissioning phase of the project, they are more than likely to have been the engineers of Design Systems Incorporated (DSI). To quote their own literature, DSI are a full service provider of manufacturing process engineering and programme management services and a recognised global supplier of services from providing small continuous improvement projects to managing multimillion dollar turnkey programmes.

And that is the essence of an integrator. On major projects such as this, integrators such as DSI would work very closely with the client, in this instance DaimlerChrysler, and provide the umbrella resource to enable all the various contractors to hopefully integrate their products seamlessly into the master plan.

Not all integration projects are on a large scale, in fact most installations within an automotive manufacturing facility are managed by integrators. When Kuka install a robotics cell or line they will often manage all the subcontractors, when Dürr or Eisenmann install a paint shop, again, they will manage or integrate all the lesser components. But the big difference with a true integration project is that the integrator is totally independent of any purchasing decisions; which usually means they are either an engineering architect or an engineering consultancy.

In fact, in the instance of the DaimlerChrysler Toledo North facility, it was almost a partnership of integrators. First there was SSOE, an engineering architect company, which worked with two other architects – the Smiths Group and BEI – and, of course, DaimlerChrysler themselves, to deliver the bricks and mortar of the plant.

But working concurrently with them were DSI, whose brief was the engineering processes and delivering a factory that could produce the quality and volume of cars specified, inside the total budget. This involved co-ordinating the work of major automotive players such as Kuka, Dürr, JB Webb and Dearborn Midwest.

But as Ewasyshyn is keen to emphasise, it was the 3D modelling of the facility and its production that breathed life into the whole project and allowed communication between the various contractors on an engineering level.

CAD savings

Ewasyshyn credits those early CAD drawings of the facility and the vehicle with the carmaker's ability to build a plant for $54/square foot. That is substantially less than Daimler Chrysler's own best, the Jefferson North Assembly Plant, which came in at $85/square foot.

The industry standard is closer to $95/ square foot and Ewasyshyn says many plants in the industry were built at a cost of $125/ square foot.

Toledo North was designed using manufacturing simulation software where it is cheap, fast and easy to make changes to come up with the ultimate in efficiency. Virtual lines cranked out virtual product, working out the virtual bugs 180 weeks before the plant was ready for production. As the product evolved, changes were made onscreen to the manufacturing processes for on-thefly engineering tweaks.

The whole plant was built electronically and existed as a “3D model before we ever dug a hole,” says Ewasyshyn. The end result is the third leg of Daimler Chrysler’s flexible manufacturing stool. The first two are Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) and Windsor Assembly Plant (WAP). All three facilities were designed to build two products and pilot a third for seamless product changeover with no production loss.

Accommodating for the future

There are no immediate plans to add a second product to Toledo, says Ewasyshyn. But the plant was designed to accommodate future changes of any kind, right down to the decision to not bolt washroom or office space into the floor.

They are housed in portable pods that can be relocated.

“Toledo is the third leg of the story that started at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) and Windsor Assembly Plant (WAP),” Ewasyshyn adds. “They were designed to incorporate proven technology and flexibility.”

Planning dates back to the days before Chrysler merged with DaimlerBenz to create DaimlerChrysler. The idea was to make Toledo North "truly the first operating principles based plant, because it was our first shot at doing a whole new building,” says Ewasyshyn. “The decision was made to design the facility virtually knowing that, with so much equipment, it was hard to coordinate,” he continues. “We could have assigned it to one contractor to manage, but we would pay a heck of a premium for that. Or we could build it electronically. We avoided, up front, $3m to $4m in changes by building the whole thing electronically, in 3D, first."

The target was to build the general assembly portion and body shop for $58/ square foot. The engineers came in under, at $54/square foot, and the cuts are not visible. The $54 includes the structure, floor, lighting, power, water, even air conditioning.

“What we did is we designed the entire facility along with two other firms – the Smith Group and BEI – and aided the process design people in the implementation of all the process,” says Brad Mauk, Project Manager from SSOE.

“It was a 2.10 million square foot facility that came in at a rough cost of $55 per square foot, which is pretty low – that was one of Daimler Chrysler’s targets to produce a low-cost building and $55 per square foot was their goal.

“It was a team effort but we led that team. We developed the standards and everyone else fed into it. And when we were done with the building it was turned over to a group named DSI.”

Construction bids

SSOE developed 30 construction bid packages which covered everything from the siting, to the roofing and then they pre-purchased as many of the long-lead items as was possible: lights, electrical gear, they even went as far as pre purchasing lockers. Then, of course, they had to manage all the construction bid packages that they developed for different trades – steel packages, mechanical packages, electrical packages, as well as two general contractors to oversee everything.

For a major motor manufacturer to hand a whole project over to integrators was, and still is, unusual according to Mauk, but it was the use of 3D modelling that made it work.

“It is a little unusual to have such control but when you can undertake 3D modelling it really helps the process people because we could give them the whole facility in 3D and then they could insert all of their conveyors and process into that 3D model. Once the building was up and we turned the model over to DSI, they looked after the inside.”

Process engineering

With the building design locked down it was time for integrator number two to step up to the plate, although they had already been involved to ensure that the factory layout was suitable for the manufacturing processes that it contained.

“Our role in that is to undertake the process engineering, from the concept-engineering phase that includes preliminary layouts to achieve their overall goals of throughput and quality,” Daniel Birchmeier, Director of Sales And Marketing, Design Systems (DSI), says.

“We start with process layouts in body, paint and trim, and take that layout all the way through developing detail, the bid documents, to understanding all the different needs of suppliers for that equipment whether it be conveyors, paint equipment, body shop equipment, trim equipment, final line assembly equipment.

“We do the upfront engineering, the detailed engineering and we also provide the integration between all those suppliers. In this case we were on site for four years from start to end of the project – from the concept engineering through the detailed engineering and then the on-site integration of integrating that quality together to achieve the quality and throughput.

“Then we moved on to commissioning and start up. The final deliverables at the end of the day for the customer are all the drawings, the maintenance manuals that the suppliers put together. We compile all that information for the customer to use and for their trades to understand how that equipment works.

“DaimlerChrysler had their standard specifications that we had to adhere to keep their platforms in line with other facilities, and try to drive some commonisation between the facilities, so we understand that. We will look at the pros and cons of those platforms to try and make sure that they are cost effective. The suppliers understand this and a lot of them are in tune with the common platforms already, so it doesn’t drive a lot of cost into the project.

“We have a team of people on site who talk to the contractors who are putting it in to understand how all the pieces of equipment communicate with other contractors’ equipment and DaimlerChrysler’s architecture platforms, so that they get all the proper faults reporting, communication of how the equipment is running for the day, the faults that occur, where they occur, how maintenance can get to them to make repairs.

“One of our key services is that we like to portray ourselves as an extension of their engineering team; we look after the details and take care of some of the on site headaches and make sure that all of the contractors are working efficiently, because we want to make this a win-win situation. The headaches go away, the co-ordination efforts are better and the customer gets what he paid for. We monitor that all the way through the process of engineering and fabrication so that there are no surprises when the equipment turns up on site.”

Integrator’s responsibility
  • Assist owner in developing programme budgets and schedules
  • Develop primary macro scroll to assist in developing the preliminary process and layouts
  • Concept development of product carriers using Catia and 3D product information
  • Perform studies to determine capacity requirements for mechanical utilities develop projected contractor trades loading estimates required throughout the programme.

Systems Engineering

  • Develop bid packages and co-ordinate layout development
  • Provide fi nalised scroll to plant Ies to develop preliminary man-assignments
  • Develop detailed workplace layouts using the man-assignments developed by the plant
  • Develop typical electrical control methods and defi ne equipment interlock requirements
  • Develop and maintain bulletin/fi eld order change logs and budget roll-ups
  • Develop 3D Catia conveyor layouts for Paint Shop and co-ordinate the entire Paint Shop 3D Catia layout.

Detailed Engineering and Fabrication

  • Ensure that specifi cations are understood and followed
  • Continue to co-ordinate and develop the details of the schedule
  • Update and revise workplace layouts as man-assignments are changed
  • Track and co-ordinate all tooling and facility moves using DSI’s Visual Station Database
  • Conduct contractor progress and co-ordinate meetings for the body, paint and TCF shops.

Engineering Assistance and Follow-Up

  • Provide daily activity reporting, including weekend work and future task loading
  • Monitor and report construction and progress activities
  • Provide detailed point-to-point validation on all paint shop equipment
  • Participate in equipment and conveyor buy-off activities
  • Assist owner with the launch implementation plan
  • Verify accuracy of installation, provide punch lists, and review contractor as-built drawings and manuals
  • Co-ordinate, assist in 20-hour run testing.

Unique collaboration

According to Birchmeier there were a couple of unique things that they did on the project. The first was the collaboration of all the vendors who provided input into the evolving 3D model. “We put together some 3D modelling that was a collaboration of many vendors and we were the integration of that model to take all the pieces of 3D from the facilities side from SSOE to all the suppliers of equipment and putting that all into one 3D model for the customer,” he explains.

Also the direct and open contact that DSI enjoyed with the Jeep Liberty product development team allowed them to incorporate changes in the product design seamlessly into the design of the manufacturing process to make the product. “We are integrated directly with DaimlerChrysler’s product development team; we have a line direct to their product information,” Birchmeier explains. “So by being able to download their product information with their approval we can guide them to cost reductions on things like carriers for tooling; if we can make those simpler by revising the product slightly then we can co-ordinate that with the suppliers.

“There is a lot of trust involved with DaimlerChrysler, they are one of our key customers and there is a strong trust in our ability to understand what they are looking for in their own specifications. When we get involved, and like I said it is a long project, four years in this instance, we get involved in the initial planning with them and for them to develop the layout that functions and utilise cost effective ways of doing this. And since we don’t have a product that we push ourselves, we are very open and unbiased, and look for the best solution rather than trying to sell our own products – so we can explore all the avenues and look for the pros and cons.”

New projects

Birchmeier explains that their relationship with DaimlerChrysler is not new but it is fairly unique among automotive OEMs. “We have been doing this with DaimlerChrysler and before them the Chrysler Group for 20 years,” Birchmeier says. “They have picked specialist suppliers in certain areas and we have been the integrators for them.

“For other carmakers, the Toyotas and Hondas of this world, it has been a little bit more turnkey. They will get someone to construct the building and then ask someone like Dürr to construct the paintshop to deliver 50 jobs an hour. From the Chrysler side they have tried to have more control and tried to give the work to local suppliers, who all have specialities in what they do, and do well.”

DSI has other irons in the automotive fire. They are working on the DaimlerChrysler truck programme in St Louis, and they have been involved with GM for an upcoming Saturn project. Also on the cards is some small work for Honda as they attempt to break into the market a little bit more.

Is the use of integrators growing for automotive OEMS? It is hard to judge with the paucity of new build projects on the horizon. Certainly OEMs will continue to use integrators or prime suppliers for installing lines or cells in an existing manufacturing plant, but whether many of them are willing to hand control over to an external integrator in major builds remains to be seen.

Facts and figures


  • 479,260 square foot of manufacturing space
  • Processed at 53.8 jobs per hour gross capacity
  • 215 welding, sealing and material handling robots
  • Automation level is approximately 80 per cent
  • 8,355 foot of inverted power and free track conveyors – 305 inverted power and free carriers
  • 2,450 foot of overhead power and free delivery conveyors – 60 right hand and 60 left hand conveyors.

Many of the techniques used at Toledo North were developed and refined at DaimlerChrysler’s Newark and Ontario assembly facilities, where again DSI provided facility layout, material handling design and complete controls architecture.

Using processing information from models and build documents, DSI produced a plant layout using developed production modules and data regarding conveyor routes and lengths, storage requirements, material flow, space allocations, and locations for tooling and equipment. The electrical and controls engineering group completed electrical power system load studies to predict the power needs of various types of equipment. This data is particularly important for body shop welding operations.

Other key operations studies dealt with weld water, compressed air, and process ventilation.

DSI provided engineering assistance needed to take the project through installation, launch and start of production, including contractor co-ordination, manpower loading, documentation and the monitoring of construction progress.

Paint shop

  • Processed at 54 jobs per hour gross capacity
  • 727,437 foot of manufacturing space including paint mix and sludge systems
  • 52 sealing, painting and handling robots
  • 74 powder, base coat and clear coat bell applicators
  • 22 systems in paint circulation including base coat, clear coat and cleaning systems
  • 24,650 foot of inverted power and free track conveyors systems
  • 781 inverted power and free carriers
  • 1440 foot of air-bi-dip conveyors – 111 skids.

Design Systems developed and maintained the overall paint shop layout to keep it to an as designed status throughout the programme.

DSI continually reviewed the layout and implemented cost saving ideas for DaimlerChrysler.

They also co-ordinated and maintained a detailed schedule with over 10,000 activities with sufficient accuracy to automatically generate monthly invoices based on progress and dollar values tied to the scheduled activities.

Throughout the seven month equipment installation period DSI provided detailed drawing and fabrication reviews to ensure quality and specification compliance. The company also played a key role in the validation and 20 hour run testing for all off the equipment within the paint shop.

Trim chassis and final assembly (TCF)

  • 575,715 foot of manufacturing space
  • Processed at 53 jobs per hour gross capacity
  • Automated stripper systems for I/Ps and seats
  • Automated front suspension decking and secure
  • Robotic rolling of door weatherseal
  • Robotic glass cell
  • 10,400 ft of inverted power and free track conveyor systems
    • 278 carriers
  • 2,930 ft of skillet conveyors – 137 skillet carriers with power lifts
  • 26,633 ft of five overhead power and free systems
  • 360 ft of flat top conveyors
  • 2,378 ft of tyre and wheel monorail conveyor – 335 carriers.

DSI developed and maintained the overall plant layout to Daimler

Chrysler, Catia and AutoCAD standards, and maintained the interface with all tooling vendors, conveyor suppliers and process equipment manufacturers to minimise interferences and assure smooth integration of equipment and facilities.

Extensive benchmarking was performed to ensure a process driven conveyor selection.

DSI provided engineering services to develop the conveyor system and its support structure, also requirements for equipment installation in body, paint and trim shops. Timing and transfer studies were performed, carriers were designed and banking/accumulating zones were established for applicable systems. DSI also provided specialised expertise in chain pull and drive analysis, clearance layouts and pneumatic systems.

They also applied lean and agile techniques that maximised productivity while assuring a high quality build.