A 1.6 million square-foot expansion of General Motor’s Arlington Assembly facility, in Arlington, Texas, will improve production efficiency and build-quality on the all new 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban.
The $1.4 billion investment, which has been underway since 2015, includes a new, one million square-foot body shop and a 600,000 square-foot expansion of the paint shop, along with new, high-precision camera- and laser-based inspection systems that allow for more sophisticated quality checks for the SUVs.
“Everything we do at Arlington Assembly is focused on building better vehicles for our customers,” says Bill Kulhanek, plant executive director at Arlington Assembly. “This strategic expansion brings the latest in manufacturing and inspection technologies, while adding procedures designed to improve the quality and durability of the Tahoe and Suburban.”
The plant investment accommodates fundamental changes to the all-new vehicles’ design, including a stronger body architecture with an integrated front end, a panoramic sunroof, a new underbody structure designed for independent rear suspension in the SUVs, a new underbody sealing designed to increase the vehicles’ long-term durability, and a new electro-hydraulic brake system.
“More than the physical changes, the Arlington upgrades increase assembly flexibility in the plant, allowing for more model and trim variations,” Kulhanek says. “That means more choices for customers. In fact, the trim range for Tahoe and Suburban expands to six, with distinct designs and features on each.”
Arlington’s new body shop comprises the largest phase of the plant’s expansion and upgrades. One of the body shop’s new features is 1,450 new robots, including the latest six-axis robotic system, which nearly doubles the number from the previous body shop and will optimize efficiency and quality. The shop also now has automated vision-system-based dimension and parts placement stations that use cameras and lasers to more accurately locate body components for assembly and ensure dimensional accuracy prior to welding for proper gaps and flushness. There are cameras and laser scanners to locate points in body panels that must be pierced by fasteners, contributing to more precise panel alignment during assembly. Also, a new laser-based quality audit system uses robot-mounted Leica scanners to produce color maps of assembled bodies to ensure dimensional accuracy.
The body shop’s upgraded system supports the SUVs’ new body structure, which features an integrated front-end assembly that is welded to the rest of the body, rather than bolted on later in the assembly process, giving the vehicle an improved look.
The paint shop was also upgraded and now employs new procedures and revised processes, including a new pretreatment process that preps the steel and aluminum body to accept paint, while also being more environmentally friendly. After the pretreatment, the bodies are rinsed for electro-deposition coating, which helps seal the metal for corrosion protection. The bodies then move to the underbody sealing station, where robots are used to consistently apply liquid material to the seams and body-panel overlaps, enhancing corrosion resistance on the bottom of the body assembly. A more environmentally friendly waterborne top-coat system replaces the solvent-based materials previously used in the paint shop, which also requires less time and less material. Vision-system cameras are then used to verify the finish quality characteristics.
“We are now able to perform a single, continuous paint application across the body,” says Benito Garcia, paint shop project lead. “The more consistent color spray-out creates a more consistent finish, from front to rear. It’s a big win for the paint-finish quality of the new Tahoe and Suburban.”
Arlington Assembly employs 4,500 workers on three production shifts. It is the sole producer of the Chevrolet Tahoe and Suburban, GMC Yukon and Yukon XL and the Cadillac Escalade. Through a series of purchase agreements for wind power, Arlington Assembly runs entirely on wind energy, earning the plant a spot on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s National Top 100 List of the largest green power users.