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auto assembly plant operations

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auto assembly plant operations
Posted by A.D. Mac on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 2:46 PM

I'm at the track planning stage of my layout development, and I would like to include a "Big Three" auto assembly plant. Okay, really just a small sliver of one ... the part where the trains are. I know most auto parts traffic is in intermodal containers today, but my time period is early 1990s, so it should still be getting a healthy supply of inbound parts by boxcar. I've been looking at aerial images of various plants, and almost all seem to have tracks going inside the building in at least two locations, usually three. They don't seem to have outside spotting locations and through-the-wall loading dock doors like some industries. Am I correct, then, in assuming all the boxcar unloading happens indoors?

I'm hoping one of you with more expertise can help me fill in some details:

- Where tracks enter different areas of the plant, are they keyed to what parts the cars are delivering? In other words, do engines and powertrains get delivered to one area of the plant, body panels to another, and seats to another, close to where they're actually needed on the assembly line?

- If I see a pair of tracks entering the building at the same point, are there probably two docks, one for each track, handling different materials? Or do they line up the doors and work both tracks from the same dock for added volume?

- At light truck and SUV plants, still building vehicles with the classic body-on-frame design, do those frames get unloaded outside? (That's what it looks like from Google Earth.) Do the forklifts take entire stacks of frames inside, or do they break them up outside? I have my eye on some of those ProtoLoads flatcars ...

- Do plants have their own switcher spotting cars, or does the Class I railroad serving the plant do all the switching? How often do they spot cars and pull empties? Once a day? Once per shift? More often?

- I was looking at GM's Lordstown, Ohio plant the other day in Google Earth. It has a separate small building off to the west side labeled "GM Lordstown Metal Center." It looks like it receives empty gons and sends loads of scrap. Or are those inbound steel loads ...? Aerial images are a little grainy. Anybody know what they do there? Might be an interesting additional operation opportunity.

Thanks for your advice and insight!

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Posted by davidmurray on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 3:47 PM

Having worked 31 years at GM Oshawa, I can answer some questions; but the answers are only definite for Oshawa:

By 1973, are rail cars were unloaded inside, including frames for the pickups.

We only had one track coming into each area.

Things were unloaded as close to where used as possible.

The plant was switched on each production shift, ordered for between shifts  A slightly over 2 hr period between days and evenings.

CN and CP switched the production complex.

We had a coal fired heat/electricity/compressed air plant, hoppers unloaded outside.

Hope this helps.

Dave

 

 

 

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
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Posted by Shreve Rail on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 5:40 PM
My friend was formerly the MTO (manager of train operations) for UP in Shreveport, LA, during the time when the GM plant was open. His biggest problem every day was to get the train into the plant and have everything in the right places at the right times. The train originated in Salem IL, I was told. It was switched by UP from the yard at the plant called Reisor.
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Posted by kansaspacific1 on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 6:53 PM

Worked at the Ford Kansas City Assembly Plant for 35 years....Most of that time (until after the Commercial (F150) body shop was moved to another location on the property, there were two tracks going all the way through the building (about a half mile from north to south).

If I remember correctly there were two switches per shift.  Norfolk and Western made the switches with their equipment. They have a small yard (still there) where they lined up the switches.

The Passenger car system was in the southern end of the facility, trim and chassis on the east side of the dock, and the body shop on the west side.  Commercial was on the north end, with body, trim, and chassis in that order south to north on the east side of the dock.  Paint shops were on the second floor.

All parts were delivered as close to the areas of use as possible, then unloaded with fork lifts from the rail cars on the respective side of the dock, and transported to areas of use.  F150 frames were unloaded outside at the north end, and brought in stacks on fork lifts to the frame line.

Due to areas on both sides of the docks there were three "bridges"...really elevators which lifted the "bridge" from the bottom of the raildock pit up to the level of the floor, so that fork lifts and other traffic could cross all the time between switch times.

And yes, there was an accident once when the southernmost bridge wasn't lowered before the engine came into the building.  Train locked up his brakes at the door but couldn't stop in time...moved the bridge so that it sat alongside its location on the other side and bent the cylinders badly.

If you have any other questions, please ask, and I'll try to answer.

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Posted by JimL on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 8:52 PM

GM's "Linden Assembly" in Linden NJ. Closed in 2005.

Two pairs of tracks entered the building at different locations. One pair was solely for hi-cube boxcars, the other pair of tracks was for various boxcars.

When the plant switched over to small truck production, the truck frames were unloaded outdoors, under a shelter. The entire stack was carried indoors by large, solid-pneumatic tired forklifts.  

The plant was switched by Conrail. I don't know the switching schedule, but it was done often. The engine that Conrail kept there was often idling in the small adjacent yard, at all hours.

That yard held loaded and empty boxcars and truck frame flatcars, and sometimes empty autoracks. Loaded autoracks were loaded/kept in a secure location at the plant, I think 6 tracks, for the short time before they left the plant. They didn't stay long.

Have fun with your planned layout. Cool idea.

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Posted by NittanyLion on Tuesday, May 02, 2017 11:24 PM

A.D. Mac

- I was looking at GM's Lordstown, Ohio plant the other day in Google Earth. It has a separate small building off to the west side labeled "GM Lordstown Metal Center." It looks like it receives empty gons and sends loads of scrap. Or are those inbound steel loads ...? Aerial images are a little grainy. Anybody know what they do there? Might be an interesting additional operation opportunity.

 

My brother lives not far from Lordstown, so I have some familiarity with it.

Outbound scrap only.  The only rail moves at Lordstown are loaded autoracks out and loaded scrap gons out. There are no other spurs into the plant at this point and even half the outbound autorack tracks have been pulled up.

The coil cars, covered hoppers, and some of the gons in the yard to the north of the plant are for other customers in the immediate area.

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Posted by BRAKIE on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 6:37 AM

JimL
The plant was switched by Conrail. I don't know the switching schedule, but it was done often. The engine that Conrail kept there was often idling in the small adjacent yard, at all hours.

The now closed GM Stamping plant in Ontario,Ohio was served by CR and used the old Erie/E-L Harding yard adjacent to the plant. CR used two GP38-2s for motive power. This was a dedicated switch crew that served the GM plant.

Harding was a relaxed yard and you could park in CR's parking lot and watch the crew switch cars. After the crew did the required plant work they would prepare the next cars needed for production delivery.

The cars was 60 and 86 foot boxcars with mill gons for scrap.

Larry

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Posted by A.D. Mac on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 11:27 AM

kansaspacific1

Due to areas on both sides of the docks there were three "bridges"...really elevators which lifted the "bridge" from the bottom of the raildock pit up to the level of the floor, so that fork lifts and other traffic could cross all the time between switch times.

So those "bridges" crossed the tracks completely, at dock level, right? Not bridges just to the car floor. Were they at one end of the cut of cars, or did they just use them when there were no cars spotted there? Was there ever a time when no cars were spotted there?

Thanks very much for your recollection!

Dave

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Posted by A.D. Mac on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 11:33 AM

NittanyLion

Outbound scrap only.  The only rail moves at Lordstown are loaded autoracks out and loaded scrap gons out. There are no other spurs into the plant at this point and even half the outbound autorack tracks have been pulled up.

That makes sense, looking at the most recent aerials. It looked like all the tracks into the building had been cut off.

Now I'm curious about the scrap metal. I don't see gons for that when I look at aerials of most other plants. I guess I'd expect that a stamping plant, etc., would create a lot of scrap, but I figured an assembly plant would be dealing mostly in finished parts, so the waste would be minimal at that stage. What am I missing here...? Is a complex the size of Lordstown actually cutting and stamping some body panels, too ...?

Thank you all for your observations!

Dave

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Posted by A.D. Mac on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 11:41 AM

davidmurray

The plant was switched on each production shift, ordered for between shifts  A slightly over 2 hr period between days and evenings.

So, they switched the plant during the shift change? Once between day and evening shift, and again at night (or early a.m., before the next day shift)? Any idea what time? I'm getting WAY ahead of myself here, thinking about when to call the crew with my 8:1 fast clock ... Big Smile

What did you build at Oshawa?

Thanks for sharing,

Dave

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Posted by A.D. Mac on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:10 PM

BRAKIE

The cars was 60 and 86 foot boxcars with mill gons for scrap.

 

 
Both sizes of boxcars serving the stamping plant, huh? Question for everyone, then: what parts went in which kinds of boxcars? I always thought the dense, heavy parts like engines and transmissions went in 60-foot cars, while lighter parts like body panels and plastic dashboards rode the 86-foot cars. And what about those 86-foot cars with eight doors (four sets of double doors)? I've seen a lot of those in the model railroad world, but I've never seen one in real life.
 
They had a lot of special load-management hardware for this kind of specialized cargo, didn't they? Racks to fit each type of engine, body panel, etc.? They lifted all that out with the forklift at the destination, right? Did the same racks go back into that car, or did they fill up the car with empty racks from some earlier load, and send them back? And were cars pretty much captive to a particular route and service? Basically ping-ponging from a single vendor to assembly plant and back again...
 
Obviously I'm biased toward rail transportation, since I'm hanging around here on the MR forum. But it's hard to believe it's really more economical to ship all these parts by truck. Even if part of the journey is intermodal by rail, it still takes three or four drivers to deliver the parts that one 86-foot boxcar can. Are we just paying the extra shipping in the sticker price? And are they trucking back all those metal racks, too? Or have they just switched to styrofoam peanuts and plastic bags full of air like Amazon? Huh?
 
Thank you all very much for sharing your observations.

Dave
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Posted by kansaspacific1 on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 12:26 PM

Dave:

Looking at your questioin and re-reading my initial post, I see I made a small mistake....The three "bridges" were available to cross at all times except during an actual switch.  The train was split into four sections, leaving a gap at each bridge so that it could be raised back up and allow fork lifts and other traffic to cross at all times except during an actual switch.  As you mentioned they crossed the tracks completely at dock level when in the raised position.  When lowered, they were underground with the top at track level, and had two sets of rails set into the top so the train could pass over.  (Wish I had a photo.)

Chuck

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Posted by NittanyLion on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 1:53 PM

A.D. Mac

 

 
NittanyLion

Outbound scrap only.  The only rail moves at Lordstown are loaded autoracks out and loaded scrap gons out. There are no other spurs into the plant at this point and even half the outbound autorack tracks have been pulled up.

 

 

That makes sense, looking at the most recent aerials. It looked like all the tracks into the building had been cut off.

Now I'm curious about the scrap metal. I don't see gons for that when I look at aerials of most other plants. I guess I'd expect that a stamping plant, etc., would create a lot of scrap, but I figured an assembly plant would be dealing mostly in finished parts, so the waste would be minimal at that stage. What am I missing here...? Is a complex the size of Lordstown actually cutting and stamping some body panels, too ...?

Thank you all for your observations!

Dave

 

Lordstown is technically three facilities: the assembly plant, the metal center, and the paint shop.  My assumption is that they're stamping parts for the Cruze and everything they make is consumed on-site.  The large squarish building in the Northwestern corner of the facility is where they do the stamping and its connected to the assembly by an L shaped covered corridor

My brother may have toured the plant when he was in college about 10 years ago.  I'll see if he knows anything.

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Posted by BigDaddy on Wednesday, May 03, 2017 5:30 PM

A.D. Mac
I figured an assembly plant would be dealing mostly in finished parts, so the waste would be minimal at that stage. What am I missing here..

My college roommate worked at Lukens Steel in Coatsville PA.  They got Ford scrap and he had a wooden steering wheel (mustang vintage not model T) on his 1960 something station wagon that he fished out of the scrap.  There was nothing wrong with it as I recall. 

Henry

COB Potomac & Northern

By the Chesapeake Bay

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Posted by A.D. Mac on Saturday, May 06, 2017 10:06 PM

Hey Chuck,

So, the bridges were sort of the opposite of this:

http://advancelifts.com/dock_lifts/rail-transfer-bridges/

They went down to track level for trains to pass, and up the rest of the time, huh? Interesting. Did they have rails set in the top surface? Or did they raise and lower in three sections with gaps for the rails?

I was thinking some more about that track layout, too. So, a pair of tracks went pretty much the length of the plant inside? They'd have to block the cars in particular order before they shove in, wouldn't they? To correspond with the various dock positions along that length. As a switching/operations challenge, this just gets more interesting all the time!

From your bridge-mishap story, I take it the locomotive would enter the building from time to time to complete the move. No worries about diesel exhaust inside for that length of time, no need to reach in with idler cars to keep the loco outside...correct?

I just visited your plant in Google Earth, and went back through the aerials of years past. Is that the truck body plant they built southwest of the main plant, on the other side of the creek and Claycomo Rd.? Built in the 1990s, and enlarged around 2000? Do the bodies travel that high bridge over the tracks to the rest of the plant, then join the frames and powertrains over there?

Even the new building looks like it has two tracks inside, and a string of boxcars captured by the satellite 2/29/2008! But it looks like they stopped getting frames by rail in 2003. When did you retire?

Thanks again, Chuck,


Dave

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Posted by BRAKIE on Sunday, May 07, 2017 8:47 AM

A.D. Mac
And what about those 86-foot cars with eight doors (four sets of double doors)?

A lot of those eight door 86 footers was assigned to specific plants and used in capitive service between that plant and the assembly plant.

As far as the Ontario plant I'm not sure what parts they made  but,will say the plant kept a assigned CR crew busy.

Larry

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Posted by dehusman on Sunday, May 07, 2017 9:29 AM

A.D. Mac
 
Both sizes of boxcars serving the stamping plant, huh? Question for everyone, then: what parts went in which kinds of boxcars?

 
Different size parts, different quantities, some were preassembled.It varies, there are waaaaaaaay more 50 and 60 ft auto parts boxcars than 86 ft boxcars.
 
  And what about those 86-foot cars with eight doors (four sets of double doors)? I've seen a lot of those in the model railroad world, but I've never seen one in real life.
 
They were used but were not as popular as the others.
Racks to fit each type of engine, body panel, etc.? They lifted all that out with the forklift at the destination, right?
Yes.
 
Did the same racks go back into that car, or did they fill up the car with empty racks from some earlier load, and send them back? And were cars pretty much captive to a particular route and service? Basically ping-ponging from a single vendor to assembly plant and back again...
 
The same type of rack goes back into the same car.  The cars are in assigned service, so they go back to the same loading. They will "ping pong" back and forth between the same vendor and assembly plant.
 
Obviously I'm biased toward rail transportation, since I'm hanging around here on the MR forum. But it's hard to believe it's really more economical to ship all these parts by truck.
 
Depends on how you measure the economics.  From a pure transportation cost rail is cheaper.  The question is is it cheaper INSIDE the assembly plant.
 
If the plant makes 5 variations of vehicle, is it cheaper to have 1000 of all the pieces on hand all the time or to keep 200 pieces on hand and control the model swap with the supply chain.
 
Are we just paying the extra shipping in the sticker price? And are they trucking back all those metal racks, too?
 
Yes you are paying for it and yes they are trucking the racks back.  If a car of parts is bad ordered or badly delayed enroute it is not uncommon for the railroad to have to pay for air freighting the parts to the plant.
 
A lot of parts are railed to a wharehouse and trucked JIT to the plant.
 
The commodity code used by one railroad for a car of empty racks was ZZRACK and the car was considered a load.  Empty rack cars are just about as hot as loaded rack cars.
 

Dave H. Painted side goes up.

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Posted by maxman on Sunday, May 07, 2017 11:16 AM

MR had two issues devoted to auto plant facilities, complete with track plans.  I think the articles were called Railroads in the Automobile Age parts 1 and 2, by Jim Heidger, May and June 1997.  If I recall correctly these were shelf style corner switching layout plans.

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Posted by kansaspacific1 on Sunday, May 07, 2017 8:00 PM

Dave:

Rails were set in the top of the bridge (As to what they looked like, think of an elevator with two hydraulic cylinders lifting the elevator floor from the bottom, and dropping into an underground pit when down.)

They blocked the cars in order for unloading, and broke the train on either side of each bridge so that it could be raised up after the switch.  Both tracks ran all the way through the building, the engine entered at the south end, and exited at the north end.

And, yes after the truck body shop was built as a seperate building, the bodies came through the overhead high bridge from the body shop to the north.  The plant at the south end also on the west side of the creek was the truck paint shop which was built several years before the new body shop, and truck bodies in white go west through that overhead tube, and painted bodies come back through the same tube.

I don't, offhand, remember when frames stopped coming in by rail.

I retired in January 2004.

Chuck

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Posted by davidmurray on Tuesday, May 09, 2017 9:48 PM

A.D. Mac
What did you build at Oshawa?

When I started and GM Oshawa in 1973  there was two automobile lines running, and in a seperate building across the street a pickup truck plant.

One car line ran the bigger Chevs and Pontiacs, on the "B" platform.  The over plant?line ran "A" body Chevs and Pontiacs.

In a seperate parts of town, there was a parts fabriaction plant, where I spent 23 of my 31 years.

In the car plants day shift started at 7:00 am and normally lasted until 3:30 pm. Afternoon shift started at 6:00 pm and ran until 2:30, unless overtime was scheduled, then ran until 3:48 am.

Rail cars were moved late in the shift, and between shifts.  Roads were not to be blocked during shift change.

Cars\trucks were driven over the local streets to GenAuto Shipping where they were loaded unto autoracks, or auto carrying transports, depending on there destination.  GenAuto was a sperate company, with a different union.

Everything, to the best of my knowledge was unloaded by lifttruck (electric) and the empty racks/baskets/etc reloaded.  Things like car heaters, doors, side panels came in in speciality racks, and had to go back to the fabrication plant in question to be refilled, as they were valuable.

Hope these ramblings are usefull.

Dave

 The Fabrication plant is closed, the truck plant is closed, and manpower/production in the car plant is way down.

The fabrication plant shipped locally by truck, and farther away by rail.

 

David Murray from Oshawa, Ontario Canada
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Posted by riogrande5761 on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 10:46 AM

It sounds like the OP is in good hands with site operations.

Time period, of course, matters which rail cars or road names you would see.  By way of example, duringthe 1960's, and 1970's thru mid-1980's, GM preferred:

- 86' box cars with 8 doors [4 per side] Athearn & Walthers
- 60' ACF single door box cars (Atlas)

Ford Preferred:

- 86' box cars with 4 doors (2 per side).  Ford preferred Pullman Standard (Athearn/Walthers)
- 60' P-S 7315 waffle auto parts cars (ExactRail)
- 60' Greenville 7100 auto parts cars (ExactRail)

If others can add in appropriate auto parts cars - please do.

There is a lot of good information over at TrainOrders on autoparts trains; here is one topic:

https://www.trainorders.com/discussion/read.php?11,2897910,2898265#msg-2898265

Rio Grande.  The Action Road

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Posted by ericsp on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 11:53 PM

I seem to recall seeing a few SP 240000 series boxcars (70 ton, 50') that were assigned to engine and transmission service.

"No soup for you!" - Yev Kassem (from Seinfeld)

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Posted by speedybee on Sunday, May 14, 2017 11:46 PM

Very interesting thread to read through! Also, re:

A.D. Mac
Obviously I'm biased toward rail transportation, since I'm hanging around here on the MR forum. But it's hard to believe it's really more economical to ship all these parts by truck. Even if part of the journey is intermodal by rail, it still takes three or four drivers to deliver the parts that one 86-foot boxcar can.

 
I have wondered this myself, and although I'm no expert in economics, I suspect that trucking has been superseding rail largely because all of the trucking infrastructure is paid for by the government with public tax money.
 
All the highways, streets, intersections, signs, bridges, traffic lights, etc... none of it has to be directly paid for by the company transporting things. All they need is a truck and a driver.
 
In contrast, if my understanding is correct, railroads have to foot the bill for everything. Starting with the actual land on which the railroads run, on top of that they need to build and maintain tracks, switches, signals, bridges and tunnels, probably grade crossings, CTC facilities, and the list goes on. Adding all that up, and paying for the driver and even the locomotive itself is probably a minor expense.
 
Just something I'm guessing at though- anyone with any knowledge and/or numbers please chime in.
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Posted by NittanyLion on Monday, May 15, 2017 12:28 AM

The whole thing is way more complicated than just infrastructure costs.  Any time the issue of "why isn't it rail served' comes up, it always has an unspoken assumption that the local railroad wants to serve a given customer or that the customer's needs can be met.

The first mile problem at a parts maker might introduce a delay in transloading that an automaker isn't interested in having and it is faster to just have the same truck carry it the whole way.

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