The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 09, 2012

Trades’ skills on display at massive Chrysler paint shop

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

STERLING HEIGHTS – We’ve come a long way from Henry Ford’s Model T paint shop, where workers brushed on varnish-liked paint to the exterior surfaces of Ford’s vehicles. After 1913 a customer could, of course, have a Model T in any color, as long as it was black.

The minimal space used by Ford’s workers to paint, sand and buff Model Ts has evolved over the last century into the construction of ever-larger spaces for automotive industry paint plants. The latest example is the massive paint shop under construction at the Chrysler Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP).

The one million square-feet, $850 million paint shop will be among the most modern in the country. Work is also ongoing at an adjacent $165 million, 920,000-square-foot body shop. Total employment for the building trades at the site will be more than 500 jobs.

“We’re putting a lot of tradespeople to work, and they’re doing a nice job,” said John Ursu, project superintendent for Walbridge, which is managing both jobs. “It’s been really good working with them.”

Construction of the paint shop has been especially good for members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 292 and their employers at Giffin and subcontractor Gallagher-Kaiser. Giffin won the contract to construct and install the entire paint system at the Chrysler’s SHAP, while Gallagher-Kaiser is building the paint booth oven modules. About 116 members of Local 292 are currently working at the project on site, plus scores more are working in fabrication shops to build the components.

The employment boom to build the paint shop was a godsend for a local union that is heavily dependent on automotive paint shop fabrication – an industry sector that was hard-hit by the Great Recession.

“This project is a big deal for us,” said Local 292 President/Business Representative Mark VanAvery. “Combined with the work we got from the GM Orion plant, these jobs have put hundreds of our members to work at a time when we have really needed it.”

The Chrysler SHAP produces the Avenger and 200 models. The new paint shop will allow the automaker to paint 225,000 vehicles per year, allowing the application of paint using a random mix of colors.

The paint shop will include: more than 2,200 feet of spray booths; 3,200 feet of ovens; 45 air supply houses supplying 3,250,000 CFM of air into the process equipment; 9 million lbs. of sheet metal and iron; 16 miles of pipe; 74 miles of wire, and 27,000 feet of conveyor. Work began on the SHAP paint shop in late May, and the project is scheduled to wrap up July 13, 2013.

“This is one of the smoothest projects I’ve been associated with, and I’ve been doing this for over 30 years,” said Erv Partain, senior project manager for Giffin. “There have been no arguments, everybody has been working together and doing a good job.”

The SHAP’s new paint shop will utilize modern, state-of-the-art systems. Partain said the interior of the plant will be quieter, with the use of urethane/rubber wheels to drive the conveyors. And various systems will help keep the plant as clean and contaminant-free as possible.

“Chrysler is really proud of this facility – it’s going to have a lot of new technology that has never been done before,” Partain said. He said the size of the building itself will allow vehicles to be moved through the paint system at a faster rate – 70 jobs, or vehicles, per hour.

The new Chryslers car bodies will emerge from the body shop as bare metal. They will be conveyed through a phosphate system, which will etch the entire body to prepare it for paint. Then, an E-Coat (electrocoat) primer is applied to the body, which helps prevent rust. The body is then rinsed twice, baked, moved through a sealer oven, powder primed, baked, then moved through three top coat booths. An inspection follows, then the body is moved to the trim shop.

The new body and paint shops at Chrysler’s SHAP almost didn’t happen. Operations at the existing SHAP were slated to halt at the end of 2010 as part of the court-approved reorganization of Chrysler. But the entire Chrysler Corp. was saved with the intervention of partner Fiat and money from the federal government.

The ongoing combined work at the Chrysler SHAP likely represents the largest construction project in Michigan.

ASSEMBLING A HOUSING in the electrocoat phosphate primer area of the Chrysler SHAP Paint Shop are Tim Ruthenberg and John LoVasco, both of Sheetmetal Workers Local 292, and employed by Giffin.

BUILDING A GAS metering station in the Chrysler Paint Shop’s E-coat area is Khris Bracey of Pipe Fitters Local 636, employed by E.L. Mechanical.

HANDING CONDUIT UP to fellow electrician Lance Walenski, left, is Paul Schaefer. Both are IBEW Local 58 members working for Conti Electric at the Chrysler SHAP Paint Shop.