Watch It Made Blog

Posts for May 2012

On the gearhead factory trail that runs from Hyundai in Alabama all the way up to Harley-Davidson in Pennsylvania, Subaru of Indiana Automotive (SIA) in Lafayette, Indiana, is not too far out of the way—and it may be well worth the detour, as SIA is the only Subaru factory in the United States. At the plant, which opened in 1987, Subaru builds three models of car: the Outback, the Legacy, and the Tribeca, made here for North and South America. SIA handles both manufacture and assembly, turning sheets of raw steel into finished cars. But this is not the only attraction for visitors—SIA is full of surprises. The plant is located on grounds of 820 acres, which include a two-mile test track and extensive wooded areas that have been designated a "Backyard Wildlife Habitat" by the National Wildlife Federation.

Departing from the building's public lobby, tours of SIA take place on a mile-long stretch of catwalk above the vast factory, which sprawls over an area of more than 3 million square feet. The immense scale of this plant and its operations is brought to life by a few statistics. The factory has nearly 11 miles of conveyors (seven miles in the paint department alone). The transfer press used to stamp out body parts from rolls of steel is three stories high—not including another two stories under the factory floor. Working in tandem, the employees and machines at SIA crank out 20,000 cars per month.

In the stamping section, newly shipped rolls of steel are uncoiled, flattened, washed, cut, and formed into the major body parts of each car. An overhead crane delivers coils of steel from the storage area to the blanking press, which flattens them into sheets and then slices them into "blanks" in roughly the shape of car parts. From here the blanks go to any of five massive transfer presses, where 500 tons of pressure shape the steel into finished parts.

Body assembly is where robots and associates assemble the parts into a vehicle. A typical car has 4,000 separate welds, nearly 99% of them made by the 266 robots operating here. Doors, hoods, trunks, and tailgates are also added at this point, as well as sealant on the doors for protection against leaks. Next comes the paint shop, which has three levels and 74 robots.

The area for trim and final assembly is where robots leave off and human beings really take over. Here more than 600 employees join painted car bodies with engine and drive components. They install wiring, lights, and interiors, combine bodies and frames, and assemble the drive and suspension components. Once parts have been installed and the cars are filled up with gasoline, oil, and brake fluid, each is sent to the tester line for quality control. The cars are then washed with a high-pressure water bath and then prepared for shipment anywhere in North or South America.

This tour will be featured in the next edition of Watch It Made in the U.S.A. Meanwhile, you can read about other tours in the current edition of the book.

Posted By Karen Axelrod May 9, 2012