The confirmation this week that GM Europe’s Opel plant in the Gliwice, Poland will be making the new Cascada – the carmaker’s recently-revealed convertible Astra – from January next year brings the number of models made on the same assembly line to six.
The carmaker already makes the Astra H sedan, Astra 5-door, GTC and sedan and the Zafira and is looking at an increasingly complex production process, exacerbated by the fact it will be taking on Astra production from the Russelsheim plant in Germany, as part of the plan announced in May which also includes additional production going to GM’s UK plant in Ellesmere port (read more here).
The production complexity at the Polish GM plant includes logistics considerations on the inbound feed of parts to lineside and the plant has introduced sequential kitting of parts for each model variation in the interests of efficiency and safety. It will also have an impact on outbound movements, with 98% of production accounted for by exports to Europe and markets beyond.
GM has built an additional 10,000m2 facility against the bodyshop at the Gliwice plant for the storage of sheet metal parts but Andrzej Korpak, plant director at General Motors Manufacturing Poland (GMMP), said that, while storage is one thing, how to present components to the assembly line is another.
“The problem for us with [the current] five models is that there are plenty of parts on the line and this is exacerbated by the options available on each model,” he told Automotive Logistics News at the plant this week. “Every model has at least three major options but also there is additional equipment requested by the customer.”
Last year GM took storage parts required for each model variation away from the line and instead introduced a process where the specific parts for each vehicle are put into boxes by GM employees kits in a separate area between storage and assembly which are then transferred to the operator who then doesn’t need to leave the vehicle being assembled.
“This helps us especially in the model complexity,” said Korpak, adding that with the increase in parts and complexity at the plant the previous method would have led to ‘an avalanche’ of parts that would all but obscure the line. Now we have an empty line. “It gives us a lot of flexibility and increases the safety level because we don’t have forklifts or dollies running around the line.”
Logistics considerations will also play a part in the investment in tool and die, which is part of a €150m investment being made in the plant because large stamped parts risk being damaged in transport, which means it is better to invest in the press shop within the plant making the vehicle.
Talking about the export side of the business Korpak said that while at 8% Opel’s market share in Poland was better than the 6.2% European average for carmakers, it was a big percentage of a smaller number, accounting for only 24,000 cars, a production volume that the Gliwice plant hits in two to three weeks. This means that exports are very important to the life of the plant. The majority of exports are within Europe, including Germany, Spain and the UK, as well as to Russia and Turkey. This is good for the carmaker’s vehicle carriers, who are in the majority road-based and include local providers Vega, Janpol and Adampol who are flexible enough to respond quickly to sudden demands for the vehicle exports. Gefco are also involved in finished vehicle services for the plant as well as providing inbound along with Raben, Jaz and Deltatrans. Given the recent developments between PSA and GM, in which GM has signed a seven-year contract worth €900m with Gefco and will distribute around 1.2m vehicles across GM brands (read more here), this could lead to a greater proportion eventually being handled by Gefco.
The plant also transports vehicles on one weekly rail service but Korpak said he found it strange that rail was not taking a greater advantage given the increase in fuel prices.
Korpak said that there were also signs that exports further afield were growing.
“We are exporting cars to Australia for Holden and to China, which though numbers are not big, it is important to go there,” said Korpak. “We also export to countries such as Chile and are looking for new markets. We don’t think that Opel exports will reach the level of half a million but it is good to have one additional leg with exports.”