Prior to assembling components in the manufacturing plant, extensive design, engineering, testing, and production planning go into the manufacture of motor vehicles. These tasks often require years to complete and cost millions of dollars.
Using artistic talent, computers, and information on product use, marketing, materials, and production methods, commercial and industrial designers create designs they hope will make the vehicle competitive in the marketplace. Designers use sketches and computer-aided design techniques to create computer models of proposed vehicles. These computer models eliminate the need for physical body mockups in the design process because they give designers complete information on how each piece of the vehicle will work with others. Workers may repeatedly modify and redesign models until the models meet engineering, production, and marketing specifications. Designers working in parts production increasingly collaborate with manufacturers in the initial design stages to integrate motor vehicle parts into the design specifications for each vehicle.
Engineers-the largest professional occupation in the industry-play an integral role in all stages of motor vehicle manufacturing. They oversee the building and testing of the engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, and other mechanical and electrical components. Using computers and assorted models, instruments, and tools, engineers simulate various parts of the vehicle to determine whether each part meets cost, safety, performance, and quality specifications. Mechanical engineers design improvements for engines, transmissions, and other working parts. Electrical and electronics engineers design the vehicle’s electrical and electronic systems, as well as industrial robot control systems used to assemble the vehicle. Industrial engineers concentrate on plant layout, including the arrangement of assembly line stations, material-moving equipment, work standards, and other production matters.
Under the direction of engineers, engineering technicians prepare specifications for materials, devise and run tests to ensure product quality, and study ways to improve manufacturing efficiency. For example, testing may reveal how metal parts perform under conditions of heat, cold, and stress, and whether emissions control equipment meets environmental standards. Finally, prototype vehicles incorporating all the components are built and tested on test tracks, on road simulators, and in test chambers that can duplicate almost every driving condition, including crashes.
Computer programmers write detailed instructions for computers, and computer systems analysts work with computer systems to improve manufacturing efficiency. After working out the many details involved, computer specialists help put in place the machinery and tools required for assembly line production of the vehicle.
Management workers establish guidelines for the design of motor vehicles to provide direction for the teams of experts in engineering, design, marketing, sales, finance, and production. From the earliest stages of planning and design, these specialists help assess whether the vehicle will satisfy consumer demand, meet safety and environmental regulations, and prove economically practical to make. These executives also serve as public representatives for the company-they are the face of the company.
Industrial production managers oversee first-line supervisors and managers of production and operating workers. These supervisors oversee inspectors, precision workers, machine setters and operators, assemblers, fabricators, and plant and system operators. They coordinate a variety of manufacturing processes and production activities, including scheduling, staffing, equipment, quality control, and inventory control.
Production workers account for about 64 percent of motor vehicle and parts manufacturing jobs. Assemblers and fabricators and metal workers and plastic workers put together various parts to form subassemblies, and then put the subassemblies together to build a complete motor vehicle. Some may perform other routine tasks such as mounting and inflating tires; adjusting brakes; and adding gas, oil, brake fluid, and coolant. Metal parts are welded, plastic and glass parts are molded and cut, seat cushions are sewn, and many parts are painted. Many manufacturing processes are highly automated; robots, computers, and programmable devices are an integral part of motor vehicle manufacturing. Throughout the manufacturing process, “statistical process control” (teamwork and quality control) is emphasized. From initial planning and design to final assembly, numerous tests and inspections ensure that vehicles meet quality and safety standards. Modern manufacturing facilities integrate interchangeable tools on the assembly line so that they can quickly be changed to meet the needs of various models and specifications.
Although robots perform most of the welding, welding, soldering, and brazing workers still are needed for some welding and for maintenance and repair duties. Machinists produce precision metal parts that are made in numbers too small to produce with automated machinery. Tool and die makers produce tools, dies, and special guiding and holding devices used in machines. Computer-controlled machine tool operators use computer-controlled machines or robots programmed to manufacture parts of different dimensions automatically.
Workers in other production occupations run various machines that produce an array of motor vehicle bodies and parts. These workers set up and operate machines and make adjustments according to their instructions. In computer-controlled systems, they monitor computers controlling the machine processes and may have little interaction with the machinery or materials. Some workers specialize in one type of machine; others operate more than one type.
Grinding and polishing workers use hand tools or hand-held power tools to sand and polish metal surfaces, and painting workers paint surfaces of motor vehicles. Sewing machine operators sew together pieces of material to form seat covers and other parts.
Throughout the manufacturing process, inspectors, testers, sorters, samplers, and weighers ensure that motor vehicles and parts meet quality standards. They inspect raw materials, check parts for defects, check the uniformity of subassemblies, and test drive vehicles. Helpers supply or hold materials or tools, and clean work areas and equipment.
Motor vehicle operators and material-moving workers are essential to keeping the plant running smoothly. Industrial truck and tractor operators carry components, equipment, and other materials from factory warehouse and outdoor storage areas to assembly areas. Truckdrivers carry raw materials to plants, components and materials between plants, and finished motor vehicles to dealerships for sale to consumers. Laborers and hand freight, stock, and material movers manually move materials to and from storage areas, loading docks, delivery vehicles, and containers. Machine feeders and offbearers feed materials into, or remove materials from, machines or equipment on the assembly line, and hand packers and packagers manually package or wrap materials.
Workers in construction, installation, maintenance, and repair occupations set up, maintain, and repair equipment. Electricians service complex electrical equipment. Industrial machinery mechanics and machinery maintenance workers maintain machinery and equipment to prevent costly breakdowns and, when necessary, perform repairs. Millwrights install and move machinery and heavy equipment according to the factory’s layout plans. Automotive service technicians and mechanics fix bodies, engines, and other parts of motor vehicles, industrial trucks, and other mobile heavy equipment.