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Transportation Division Bulletin
Kaleidoscope: News of TRN Members

October 2004


Saturn Plant Tour Report

Canadian Transportation Research Gateway

Membership News


Saturn Plant Tour Report
by Rita Evans, University of California, Berkeley, Institute of Transportation Studies Library, Berkeley, CA

The Transportation Division sponsored a sold-out field trip to the Saturn Assembly Plant in Spring Hill, Tennessee on Tuesday afternoon during the SLA's Annual Conference in Nashville. After picking up our box lunches, thirty-one conference attendees from a number of divisions boarded a bus for the ride to Spring Hill. We assembled in the Visitors Center, a converted stable, where we viewed exhibits on Saturn's history and watched a safety video before boarding a small bus to travel to the plant itself.

Our driver, Aardvark, and tour guide, Michael, are assembly line workers who grew up in the area. They're on a 16-month temporary assignment to escort visitors through the plant and answer questions. With a distinctive Tennessee twang (we heard a lot about "vee-HICK-uls"), and a friendly, self-effacing manner, Michael explained that his father runs the farm operation that occupies 1200 acres of the plant site, maintaining a semblance of the rural character that predominated until the plant was built in the 1980s. Winter wheat and corn fields are interspersed with fallow areas that attract local wildlife.

Saturn's 7200 workers are members of the United Autoworkers Union and they work 10-hour, four-day shifts each week. Planning for the facility began in 1982, and the first models rolled off the assembly line in 1991. Depending on the time of year, up to 1000 cars are produced daily.

The Saturn plant is one of the largest and most highly automated industrial complexes ever built in this country. Plant siting was done to minimize visual impact on the surrounding area, and massive quantities of limestone excavated during construction were used to build berms to screen the plant. (A lot of the crushed limestone also ended up on local access roads.)

As we approached the production line building, Michael pointed out the paint plant where side panels, roofs and hoods were being conveyed overhead. Cotton clothing, deodorant and makeup are seen as possible contaminants and are all prohibited in the paint plant, part of Saturn's system-wide quality control effort.

After we boarded the tram for our tour, Michael demonstrated the durability of Saturn's plastic door panels by standing on one, and we all had a chance to pound on it. Safety goggles in place, we started to move through the noisy plant. Overhead conveyers transported panels, engines, tires and entire vehicles throughout the plant. We moved through an "Orange Crush" zone where pedestrian traffic is prohibited, a good idea considering the number of small motorized vehicles zipping around.

Saturn's assembly line didn't look anything like what I expected. Instead of cars lined up nose to tail, the cars were side by side. There didn't seem to be any conveyers, so how did the line move? Michael explained that when planning the plant, GM looked at excellent manufacturing facilities, including the world-class auto assembly plants of Toyota and Honda. Ergonomic considerations led them to the line modification of side-to-side cars. And when the tram circled around to the end to the line, I saw how it moved – what I thought was a solid floor was actually the conveyer, with an entire section of flooring beneath each vehicle moving ahead.

The assembly line workers didn't look like what I expected, either. These weren't the dispirited workers of Rivethead or On the Line – they were working at what seemed like a reasonable pace, and we got plenty of smiles and waves and we rode by. Employee lockers were festooned with lots of personal touches, such as stickers promoting unions, extolling God and supporting various political candidates. When someone noted the remarkable cleanliness of the facility, Michael said that when he was a team leader, he wielded the broom for the team, and that's typical.

Safety and quality were common themes in what we heard and saw – plenty of signs reminded workers to be careful and we saw areas designated as tornado shelters. Signs touted "Mutilation Prevention,' and I thought that was rather powerful, but probably effective, language to use to remind workers to protect their personal safety. But those weren't safety reminders – they were quality reminders. A closer look at one of the signs revealed that what they aim to prevent isn't bodily injury, it's damage to the vehicles from being dinged by belt buckles, watches, rings and other hard objects. (Having grown up near GM's notorious Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio, where disgruntled workers were rumored to drop nuts inside Chevy Vega door panels to intentionally cause unfixable rattles, I found this refreshing.)

Just about every vehicle we saw, whether a sedan, coupe or SUV, was a rich red, deep blue, silvery grey or jet black, but there were a few green vehicles interspersed (Michael described them as lime green, but acid green seemed a more apt description). A manifest attached to the front of each car is used to specify optional parts, such as sporty custom wheels, and whether it is destined for sale in the U.S. or Canada.

On our ride back to the visitors' center, we peppered Michael and Aardvark with questions about the plant and Saturn cars. We asked is there was a library on site, stumping our tour guides, but they made some inquiries and reported that the facility uses GM's library in Detroit. We found out that an astonishing 65% of Saturn owners are women and the company is using smaller steering wheels and adjusting the size and height of seats and window pillars to better accommodate this group.

The first Saturn Homecoming in 1994 attracted tens of thousands of Saturn owners whose vehicles got bogged down in a muddy field when the area was drenched with five inches of rain, and in 1998, temperatures soared above 100 degrees and Homecoming attendees wouldn't leave the air-conditioned plant. (I've owned two Saturns and was invited to both Homecomings, but somehow, the appeal of driving to Tennessee in the summer heat to celebrate my car escaped me.)

We thanked our personable tour guides Michael and Aardvark profusely and headed back to the Opryland Complex in time for the late afternoon sessions. Everyone I spoke to said the tour was informative and fun, and Division Chair Shaun Moran deserves a hand for a fine job in making the arrangements.

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The Canadian Transportation Research Gateway
by Shaun Moran, Transport Canada, Technology and Information Management Services Directorate (TIMSD), Library Services, Ottawa, Canada

mouseAnother new web site! Who has time? Think again. You will want to bookmark this site. Isn’t it time that somebody put all Canadian Transportation web resources on one site?
The Transport Canada Library, in collaboration with the libraries of the Transportation Development Centre the Canadian Transportation Agency, the Transportation Safety Board, and the Transportation Association of Canada, has developed a comprehensive, bilingual collection of web-based resources on transportation in Canada—The Canadian Transportation Research Gateway. It is intended to provide researchers, students, government, and industry with convenient access to evaluated Canadian transportation research resources through a single gateway.

The site is accessible by keyword search, an A-Z title index, as well as by subject and by resource types such as organizations and associations, educational institutions, government bodies (federal, provincial, municipal), government publications, journals and magazines and library catalogues. Each entry in the Gateway has been reviewed and annotated by professional librarians.

The site lists transportation conferences in Canada and has a page of links on careers in transportation. Also available are a selection of resource guides, which cite both print and electronic resources.

Find the transportation information you need with less searching, less frustration and less duplication of effort. Why maintain a list of favorite sites when you can use the Gateway? Give it a try—it’s so much easier!

If you find an exciting new transportation resource, you can submit the site to the TC Library at ctrg-prtc@tc.gc.ca who will evaluate it before adding it to the site.

The Gateway was officially launched on September 23rd (Information Management Day) at the Government Conference Centre in Ottawa, and is a finalist for the Distinction Awards 2004, during Technology in Government Week (GTEC), October 18 to 20, 2004.

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Membership News

New members of the Transportation Division

Vivienne R Beckett
San Antonio, TX 78228

Ms. Diane L. Duffey
Habush Habush & Rottier Library
777 E Wisconsin Ave Ste 2300
Milwaukee, WI 53202
Phone: 1-414-271-0900
Fax: 1-414-271-6854

Neil S. Herbert
NC Dept of Transportation
Research & Analysis
1549 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1549

Ruth S. Letson
TN Dept of Transportation Library
STE 300
J.K. Polk Bldg.
Nashville, TN 37243-0345
Phone: 1-612-741-2330
Fax: 1-615-741-1791

Ms. Amy E. Tursky
Federal Aviation Admin
ATO-A Library
800 Independence Ave SW
Rm 931
Washington, DC 20591-0001
Phone: 1-202-493-4496
Fax: 1-202-267-5951

Change in email address

Ken Winter
Virginia Transportation Research Council
New Email: Ken.Winter@VDOT.Virginia.gov

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