Inefficiencies at the Plant

In recent decades. Dodge Main has become less efficient, reflecting a variety of changed economic conditions as well as the plant design. Rising energy prices have made the multi-story plant considerably more costly to operate, not only because of the expense of moving materials and parts vertically, but also because of the escalating costs of heating buildings with a high ratio of outside wallspace to Interior workspace. Energy costs have simply highlighted other problems inherent in the multi-story design, disadvantages that became more apparent at Dodge Main and elsewhere in the postwar years.

These shortcomings become even more blatant when contrasted with the advantages of the single-story steel-framed factory of the type Albert Kahn introduced and perfected at the Ford Rouge complex in the 1920s. The workspace at Dodge Main consists of long segments no more than 100 feet wide, but divided by columns into narrow aisles 25 or 30 feet wide. Industrial engineers are severely restricted in what they can do on a single floor, particularly in the size, including height, of machinery that can be installed. In addition, they also have to be concerned with the plant's verticality. The single-story design is considerably more flexible, particularly when the fork-lift truck is available to move parts and raw materials within the plant. Finally, the automobile itself has enabled manufacturers to build plants on cheap rural lands, negating the greatest single advantage of the multi-story design. Dodge Main, with more than five million square feet of floorspace, originally utilized a site of about 30 acres. The new General Motors assembly plant to be built on the same site will require 465 acres for a plant of 3 million square feet.

Dodge Main has suffered from maladies besides high energy costs and the inherently inflexible nature of many of its buildings. Chrysler converted the complex from a medium-volume integrated manufacturing plant to a high-volume assembly facility in the 1950s. There have been two assembly lines winding through the plant in recent decades, each producing one of the "twin" models, such as the Plymouth Volare/Dodge Aspen cars last made there. Since two distinct lines were not needed for all parts and subassemblies, the two assembly lines did not always run parallel to each other and often were on different floors or in different buildings when similar operations were performed. The assymetrical nature of the assembly lines further complicated plant operations.

The adjoining Pressed Steel Building (seven stories) and Body Building (eight stories) graphically illustrate how automobile production at Dodge Main became increasingly complex and inefficient over the years. Initially, the lower floors housed large presses which produced body parts and other stampings, while metal finishing was concentrated on the upper floors. Paint booths and bake ovens were located on the fourth floors and roofs of Assembly Building No. 1 and the Pressed Steel Building. However, after stamping operations were moved out of Dodge Main in the 1950s, the two buildings have housed painting equipment. The three interior light courts were covered and put to other uses: large sludge tanks for paint recovery occupy the eastern court; a large bake oven took over the central court; and the western court was converted to a storage area for fenders and doors. When Dodge Main closed in 1980, the major operations were located as follows: metal finishing, including soldering was done on the eighth, seventh, and sixth floors; bonderite booths were on the sixth and third floors; the second through fifth floors held the priming and painting booths, as well as bake ovens; and finally, the fourth floor housed equipment for installing sunroofs and vinyl tops. In addition to the nine freight elevators serving the two buildings, enclosed conveyors on the building exteriors connected the second and sixth floors, the second and seventh floors, and the second and eighth floors. Two body hoists also ran between the first and sixth floors.

Tracing the snakelike movement of a body and its parts through these two buildings shows the complex path of production at Dodge Main in its final years. Unfinished doors, quarter panels, wheel housings, and bodies arrived at the first floor. Wheel housings and quarter panels went up to the eighth floor for metal finishing via exterior conveyors, then proceeded down to the second floor for sub-assembly. Fenders and doors went from the first floor to the second floor to a sub-assembly area and then two fender/door lines went up to the seventh floor by two different routes. There, doors and fenders were attached to bodies delivered by elevator from the ground floor. Metal finishing, including soldering and grinding, took place on the seventh and sixth floors. The bodies passed through large bonderite system booths on the sixth floor, had a sealer applied, and then passed down to the fifth floor. There, the bodies were primed, sanded, and dried, then dropped to the fourth floor for painting, baking, polishing, and the application of vinyl tops and sun roofs. All of the operations performed on the sixth, fifth, and fourth floors were duplicated on a smaller scale on the third floor, where small parts went through the same processes. The bodies prepared in these two buildings were delivered at the fourth floor level to Assembly Building No. 2, where they began a journey through most of the rest of the plant, remained on the fourth floor, and received instrument panels, heaters, seats, and exterior trim. They passed to the third floor for final trimming before they were dropped on to the completed chassis on the second floor of Main Building No. 2 and Main Building No. 4.