SMS 3-D modeling helps Chrysler prep plant for new nine- and eight-speed automatics

  • 07-Aug-2012 04:15 EDT
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Chrysler will employ the SMS 3-D package across its North American powertrain manufacturing facilities—Trenton, Dundee, and Mack Ave. in Michigan; Saltillo, Mexico; as well as Kokomo—on new product programs only. 

Everything looks more realistic when seen in three dimensions—including the shop floor of a veteran North American powertrain plant that’s being retooled to produce the industry’s first production nine-speed transmission.

Using a powerful new 3-D modeling package, Chrysler Powertrain engineers and manufacturing experts are reconfiguring the Kokomo, IN, transmission plant to build the 845RFE eight-speed automatic for rear-drive vehicles beginning in the fourth quarter of 2012, and the 948TE nine-speed fwd transaxle due to launch in the second quarter of 2013, in addition to other new powertrain programs. Chrysler is licensing manufacture of both planetary-type gearboxes from ZF, which codes them 8HP and 9HP, respectively.

The 3-D modeling package was developed by Strategic Manufacturing Solutions (SMS; formerly SMP), a relatively new company based in Auburn Hills, MI. SMS is headed by Paul Leskiw, a former General Motors powertrain-manufacturing expert who helped architect the 3.4-L “Twin Dual Cam” DOHC V6 in the early 1990s.

The Kokomo application is the industry’s most extensive use of 3-D modeling in the powertrain-manufacturing environment, according to Brian Harlow, Chrysler Vice President of NAFTA Powertrain Operations and Global Powertrain Manufacturing Engineering. Speaking with media about the Kokomo changes, Harlow cited various benefits of configuring the transmission plant using the SMS 3-D package. They include error prediction and process-bottleneck detection; earlier preventive maintenance; faster process improvements for future programs; and reduced operator injuries.

“Three-dimensional modeling allows us to make our actual investments as late as possible in the launch process,” explained Harlow. “The goal is to make the launch process as vertical as possible because this shortens the time it takes to recover our investment.”

With its 9.84 ratio spread, clever controls, and compact packaging, ZF’s new nine-speed automatic transaxle will offer Chrysler capability to increase fuel economy in its fwd vehicles by 10-16% at 75 mph (121 km/h), based on the NEDC cycle, when the gearbox is launched in minivans first for MY2013 production. The new gearbox features a pair of dog clutches that activate the 4-5 and 7-8 gear shifts—an industry first for fwd automatics. (See feature article in the November 1, 2011 AEI.)

Reduced engineering costs at launch

The 3-D modeling package created for the Chrysler powertrain plant application is based on SMS’s Create3D product. According to the company, it features “built-in intelligence” to provide the necessary comprehensive data to quickly conduct “what if” scenarios, such as identifying the consequences of changing any item on the plant layout or blueprint. It thus helps production planners avoid costly mistakes and provides a highly realistic view of what Harlow calls “the golden zone”—a virtual 60° arc around the operator determined to present the safest working range during job tasks and the minimal area for physical strain.

The SMS package also can predict lag times in production and identify bottlenecks. An animation feature allows Chrysler to validate cycle times and to discover system-related issues even before the machinery is made, Harlow noted.

The $300 million Kokomo revamp is part of a $1.3 billion investment, Harlow explained. He said Chrysler will employ the SMS 3-D package as it readies its North American powertrain facilities—Trenton, Dundee, and Mack Ave. in Michigan; Saltillo, Mexico; as well as Kokomo—for new product programs and increased production volumes. Kokomo capacity is planned for 800,000 nine-speeds and 450,000 eight-speed units.

According to Harlow, 4% of the total Kokomo investment represents engineering costs, expected to drop to 3% through the use of the 3-D package. Kokomo will produce most of the nine- and eight-speed ZF transmissions used by Chrysler, augmented by ZF’s own transmission plant in Greenville, SC, also supplying complete units as well as component sets for Kokomo.

PSA using Delmia 3-D in powertrain ops

While Chrysler claims its use of the SMS 3-D package is a first for a mainstream powertrain plant, competitors offer and have deployed systems with similar capability. Earlier this year, PSA Peugeot-Citroën announced that it had deployed Dassault Systemes’ Delmia 3-D-based software in its powertrain group to support the launch of a new dual-clutch transmission. PSA engineers say the Delmia package allows them to make significant changes early in the powertrain manufacturing process without affecting the production schedule. It also can evaluate production costs early in the development process, the companies claim.

Chrysler was an early adopter of Dassault’s CATIA, and in 1995 the two companies together launched the Chrysler Digital Manufacturing Process System (DMAPS), designed as a fully computerized end-to-end product and process management system that enabled Chrysler to design, build, and run a "virtual manufacturing process," simulating the plant processes before the fresh concrete of the shop floor was even dry.

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