A 1.6-million-square-foot expansion of General Motors’ Arlington, Texas assembly facility is designed to improve production-efficiency and build-quality of the all-new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.
The previously announced investment of more than $1.4 billion for the plant includes a new, 1-million-square-foot body shop and a 600,000-square-foot expansion of the paint shop, along with new, high-precision camera and laser-based inspection systems that offer more sophisticated quality checks for the company’s segment-leading SUVs.
“Everything we do at Arlington Assembly is focused on building better vehicles for our customers,” said Bill Kulhanek, plant executive director at Arlington Assembly. “This strategic expansion brings the latest in manufacturing and inspection technologies, while adding procedures designed to improve the quality and durability of the Tahoe and Suburban.”
“More than the physical changes, the Arlington upgrades increase assembly flexibility in the plant, allowing for more model and trim variations,” Kulhanek said. “That means more choices for customers. In fact, the trim range for Tahoe and Suburban expands to six, with distinct designs and features on each.”
The Arlington plant upgrades are part of GM’s $5 billion investment in U.S. production of new, full-size pickups and SUVs. GM previously invested in enhancements at Fort Wayne Assembly to support production of the 2019 Chevrolet Silverado 1500; and at Flint Assembly, ahead of the 2020 Chevrolet Silverado HD’s launch.
Arlington’s all-new, 1-million-square-foot body shop comprises the largest phase of the plant’s expansion and upgrades. GM uses the latest in assembly and quality-assurance technologies to assemble the Tahoe and Suburban bodies with exceptional precision. New features include:
- All-new robots — 1,450 of them — including the latest six-axis robotic systems, that nearly double the number from the previous body shop, to optimize efficiency and quality
- Automated vision-system-based dimensional and parts placement stations that use cameras and lasers to more accurately locate body components for assembly and ensure dimensional accuracy prior to welding for proper gaps and flushness
- Non-contact inspection systems that accommodate temperature fluctuations and other variables in the plant, improving consistency and accuracy
- Cameras and laser scanners to locate points in body panels that must be pierced for fasteners, contributing to more precise panel alignment during assembly
- A laser-based quality audit system that uses robot-mounted Leica scanners, from Hexagon Manufacturing Intelligence, to quickly produce color maps of assembled bodies to ensure dimensional accuracy
The body shop’s upgraded systems support the SUVs’ new body structure, which features an integrated front-end assembly that is welded to the rest of the body, rather than bolted on later in the assembly process. This improves the visual quality with improved flushness of the front-end body panels with the rest of the body.
“The new body shop is ground zero for the quality built into the new SUVs,” said Mike Stevens, launch manager for Tahoe and Suburban. “It’s a stronger, more precise foundation on which the vehicles are assembled. With the all-new inspection technologies incorporated, we’ve taken quality control to an even higher level.”
Revamped in 2013 as part of a $200 million investment, Arlington Assembly has one of the most efficient, contiguous stamping operations in the industry, accommodating steel and aluminum components (the new SUVs feature lightweight aluminum doors, hood and lift gate panels), along with the capability of high-speed die changes to accommodate greater model variation.
In fact, die changes such as changing between the Tahoe’s roof panel and the longer Suburban roof panel, or changing from door outer panels to the lift gate panel can be made in a matter of minutes, compared to the hours it can take in other facilities. Enormous overhead cranes move the dies, which can weigh up to 60,000 pounds each, in and out of place. Up to five die sets are used for each body panel.
A five-step robotic process is used to form the panels and pierce necessary holes. As with the new body shop, a camera-based inspection system helps ensure dimensional accuracy and supports faster, more accurate parts tracking.
The flexibility of the stamping operations, particularly with the high-speed die changes, allows the plant to produce a greater number of components on-site.