Box Swap Process Saves Jobs in Fort Wayne
Innovative process eliminated need to revamp paint shop and saved Indiana Jobs
General Motors spent $4 million at its Fort Wayne Assembly facility to implement a system called "Box Swap," and retained 3,300 jobs at the plant in the process. The "Box Swap" enables the paint shop to accommodate the extra length of an extended cab pickup with an eight-foot box. The system works by swapping the six-foot box from a regular cab with the eight-foot box from the extended cab, painting the trucks, then swapping the boxes back. The plant builds more than 1,400 Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full
ROANOKE, IN - Good news can be a double-edged sword sometimes. Such was the case when General Motors’ Fort Wayne Assembly plant learned it would be inheriting the assembly of heavy-duty pickup trucks being transferred from the Pontiac (Mich.) Assembly Plant. This is good news for the Indiana Job Search.
Fort Wayne plant leadership and employees were ecstatic at the news following GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. Then the plant learned that extended cabs with eight-foot boxes were part of the deal. The longer boxes would not fit in Fort Wayne Assembly’s existing paint shop.
A solution was needed – and quickly.
“A lot was at stake,” said Elmer Tobe, Global Paint & Polymers Center resident engineer and a member of the paint shop team that helped create and implement what became known as the Box Swap, an innovation that cost a tenth of the $40 million an upgrade to Fort Wayne’s paint shop conveyor and carrier system would have cost.
To make the Box Swap work, two trucks are needed – an extended cab with an eight-foot box and a regular cab with a six-foot box. Both trucks need to be painted the same color so when the boxes are swapped before entering the paint shop, they can be swapped back to the correct cab after painting. If there are not two boxes available, the extended cab and long box must use two paint carriers – creating a “widow” that removes a carrier from the paint production system.
As a result, major changes were made to the plant’s production IT (information technology) systems to handle the complex routing from the Paint Department to the Assembly Department while maintaining quality. Cooperation with the scheduling organization in Detroit was critical. Team members on the line in Fort Wayne took the Box Swap from idea to reality in about six months. It cost $4 million but retained 3,300 jobs.
“It was a unique solution to a unique situation that to this day still serves us efficiently,” said Jeff Moore, GM senior controls engineer at Fort Wayne Assembly and a member of the Box Swap Squad. “Currently, no other GM assembly plants are using the same configuration.”