Sunday, June 8, 2008

First week at General Motors

My first week working for General Motors was exciting... and overwhelming! Over the first few days, a lot of people I met would say, "Welcome to the exciting world of automobile manufacturing" with a hint of sarcasm in their voice. For me, the world of automobile manufacturing is exciting... so much is going on in the assembly center, it amazes me. But I can see how it might get boring after you've been working there awhile. The cars move down the line, pieces get attached, more cars move down, more pieces get attached... I'm sure it gets quite repetitive after some time. But I'm still in a wide-eyed phase.

This summer, I'm working for General Motors at their Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center. Technically, all of their plants are called "assembly centers", which I guess has a nicer ring than "plant", but most people still call them plants. The Detroit-Hamtramck plant is so named because it actually lies in both cities, Detroit and Hamtramck. Hamtramck is a city just north of Detroit, and parts of the plant, like the paint shop and power plant, are in Hamtramck, while parts like General Assembly are in Detroit. This causes strange things... for example, there's a law against public smoking in Hamtramck but not in Detroit, so people can't smoke on the Hamtramck side of the plant, but they can on the Detroit side. Of course, no smoking is allowed in the plant at all, so they have to go outside to smoke anyway. There's differences in tax laws too.

There's a cemetery on the grounds of the assembly center too. When GM built the assembly center there, Hamtramck would only let them build if they kept the cemetery intact, which has historic value. The graves date back to the 1800's, which seems young compared to Massachusetts cemeteries, but is pretty old for Michigan! One day, when the line was down, one of the workers took me out a side door and pointed it out to me.

At Dham (as the plant is called), we build two cars - Cadillac DTS and Buick Lucerne. On Tuesday, GM announced that our plant is going to build the new Chevy Volt, which is great news for all of the people who work there, because electric/hybrid cars are the future. They are much better off than the people who are working in many of the truck and SUV factories that are closing.

I'll apologize right now for my lack of pictures this summer... there's a ban on cameras in the assembly center, except for special work purposes (like taking pictures of defects that need to be fixed). But, courtesy of, I'll include pictures of the beautiful cars that we build:
Cadillac DTS

Buick Lucerne

This summer, I'm working in the Body Shop, which is the beginning of a car's journey. Here, we literally build the car from the bottom up, building the underbody, then adding the sides and roof, then all of the moving pieces like the doors, hoods, and decklids. There's lots of welding and sharp metal, so I have to wear safety glasses and protective sleeves, and I have to wear gloves whenever I need to touch metal. At some point, I'm going to be a production supervisor, managing a section of the line in Body Shop, but for now, I've been going around with different supervisors and learning how things work and how the car gets put together.

I do a lot of walking... I'm basically on my feet all day long, except for lunch time and the two meetings we have each day. Line time is 6am to 2:30pm, so I have to be there at 5:30am. This week, I've been leaving at 2:30, but once I become a supervisor, I won't get to leave until the line shuts down, and every day this week, the line has run overtime (have to meet the production quota!). Also, we work two out of three Saturdays, so I'm going to be really busy, but at least I'll get a lot of overtime pay!

Here's a quick overview of my week:

Sunday: I moved into my apartment. GM is wonderful and provides all of its interns with free housing. My apartment is 17 miles north of work, so I do a lot of driving, but it's in a very nice area with lots of stores and restaurants and shopping malls. My favorite mall is about 15 minutes away, there's a grocery store 5 minutes away, and a Target right on my corner! I've made lots of trips to target this week to pick up things I forgot.

My apartment is beautiful - much nicer than I expected GM to give us! It came completely furnished. In fact, the only things they told us to bring were linens and a phone. For three of us, we have a kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, bathroom, and sink room. The living room has a cathedral ceiling, all of the furniture is really nice, we have laundry machines right in our apartment, the kitchen is stocked with any dishes or pots or cooking appliances you might need (except measuring cups for some reason). We have cable TV and internet (I had to buy a wireless router though, because I didn't want to plug in). I claimed the single bedroom - I'll switch if someone complains, but I don't think they'll mind, because I get up at 4am and they get to sleep much longer.

Monday: Orientation. A full day of having different people talk to me and four other student interns about General Motors and procedures and standards. Nothing too exciting happened, except it was good to meet other interns. We all work in different areas, so we might not have met otherwise. I do see the other interns around the plant every now and then though.

Tuesday - Friday: Shadowed four different supervisors in Body Shop
Tuesday: Skid Loop
Wednesday: Metal finishing
Thursday: Cartrac
Friday: Body fitting

I'll describe the different areas of Body Shop in a later entry, since this is getting pretty long. However, I do want to say that Friday was the most exciting day, because I got to drive a Lucerne. There was a problem that couldn't be fixed in body fitting (which is actually at the end of the line, far away from the rest of Body Shop), so I had to drive it all the way around the plant to take it over to the repair hole in metal finishing. It's a very nice car, great to drive (though I didn't go over 20mph), and I think it looks great too. Later this summer I'll get to drive a Cadillac -- they have a program where new hires get to take a Cadillac home for a night! For someone who had never driven a brand new car (until Friday) and has never driven a Cadillac, it will be very exciting!

Next time... more about the exciting world of automobile manufacturing!