Two weeks from now, General Motors will start running its Fairfax assembly plant continuously on a permanent basis. The unprecedented around-the-clock operation, following on the heels of the temporary third shifts a few months ago, is intended to boost the plant's production from its current 4,500 vehicles per week to 6,300 units over the same period.

Operating around-the-clock is no simple feat. Experts point out that automotive assembly lines require a lot of scheduled maintenance, cleaning, and restocking – tasks that are usually accomplished during the down periods between shifts. Typically, car makers add second shifts on a temporary basis when the market demands more vehicles. Third shifts are common for part suppliers, but not for automakers (even Toyota Motor Corp., often cited as a benchmark in efficiency, rarely operates more than two shifts). To allow time for maintenance, GM and union officials have figured out how to "overspeed" parts of the assembly line so they can be slowed temporarily later. The three-shift assembly line will run about 21.6 hours per day (up from 14.5 hours with two shifts).

GM is moving cautiously. The Fairfax assembly plant is the automaker's best candidate for a permanent third shift. Located in Kansas City, it consistently ranks among the most efficient automotive factories in America. In addition, the facility is tasked with manufacturing the Chevrolet Malibu and Buick Lacrosse – both vehicles are selling well, so a third shift will help satisfy demand rather than oversaturate the market. Hat tip to Sea Urchin for the tip!

[Source: Wall Street Journal - Subs. Req'd]