TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — Factories fighting to stay trim in the next century will walk a fine line between the need to create uniform operations across the plant floor and the desire to foster a creative spirit.
That is the two-edged sword expressed by Thomas LaSorda, executive in charge of competitive manufacturing for General Motors Corp.'s North American operations. LaSorda, who spoke Aug. 5 at the University of Michigan Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, said that plants must become leaner, more flexible and faster to market, to survive the rigors of a demanding industry.
The GM executive took his model from the company's lean-running Opel Eisenach plant in Germany, a revamped facility started in 1991 by the world's leading carmaker. LaSorda argued that other North American plants need to make some major shifts in mindset similar to what the rest of the world has done.
``Some plants need to make a quantum leap to set new standards and new ways to achieve breakthroughs,'' LaSorda said.
That work could include a leap of faith by creating an integrated enterprise, LaSorda said. He suggested that plants should be highly flexible, to the point that a facility has enough electrical outlets to allow equipment to be moved over a weekend.
And speaking of flexibility, LaSorda also said that:
Product designs should be so robust that the basic framework can work for a variety of vehicles.
On the shop floor, controlled logic processors on equipment should automatically alert operators how to do the work step by step and solve equipment snafus.
A conveyor system also should move materials directly to each area of the assembly line.
LaSorda's most radical suggestion, at least for North American plants, was to have employees invest their own money in buying shares of a plant so they would reap productivity gains directly through their wallets. In fact, LaSorda said that unions also could make a similar investment.
His ideas on creating common product designs and automating equipment operations should not prohibit new ideas by employees, he said.
``Creativity should still be an important part of a successful plant,'' LaSorda said. ``We're increasing flexibility at the plants, not changing an environment where new ideas are heard. They're always important to an operation.''