• This... is... TONAWANDA!!!! Built in 1937, in 1938 it began production of Chevrolet's "Stove Bolt" inline six-cylinder, so named because it used the 1/4-inch x 20 bolts found on unwelded wood-burning stoves. It also built 14- and 18-cylinder Pratt & Whitney engines during World War II, the first Corvette's only engine in 1953 the first small-blocks in 1955, the first big-blocks in 19458, and now the Gen V small-block.
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  • Image Credit: GM
  • General Motors' Tonawanda Engine Plant produces four Gen V engines, but this is the 6.2-liter V8 that powers the halo. It will be the only GM plant producing the C7 Corvette engine, and the only plant making all four Gen V variants.
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  • These are the other players: the 4.3-liter V6, the 5.3-liter V8 and the 6.2-liter V8 EcoTec3 line-up.

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  • Blocks and heads are cast off-site, then given to the "flying robots" that place them in Smart Drive CNC machines for milling, tapping and other finishing processes.
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  • That's one bank of Smart Drive machines in the background. The action inside one of them can be viewed on the monitor.
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  • Trays of tools used inside the Smart Drives for the boring, threading, drilling and other operations to go from raw to finished.
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  • A set of tools to finish a particular block and head are arranged on trays. Each tool has an RFID chip so the Smart Drive knows it has the right implement, and the Smart Drive also knows how many hours a tool has logged and when it needs to be retired.
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  • More tools...
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  • The holes at the ends of these tools are channels for coolant.
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  • An unfinished block in the foreground, a finished block in back, the main bearing caps and databolts in between.
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  • A closer look at an unfinished block.
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  • The finished product which, as the sign will tell you, is still sharp.
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  • A close up on the threads in the finished block. Remember these - we'll come back to them...
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  • Databolts. They can hold 2048 bytes of information pertaining to the block or the head into which they are placed, and each machine on the assembly line can check its own instructions against the databolt to make sure it is performing the correct process on the correct block or head.
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  • The synthetic-ruby-tipped instruments in one of the 12 Zeiss Accura Coordinate Measuring Machines (CMM) check to see, to within 2.5 microns, if a finished block is within tolerances. The enclosure is temperature-controlled and the CMM can be programmed to check any aspect of a block and 11,000 data points.

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  • Other instruments used by the Zeiss Accura CMM, depending on what it's measuring.
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  • The summary of measurements taken by the Zeiss.
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  • If a block passes, it gets one of these.
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  • Due to the time each test takes, not all blocks are tested, but the ones that pass get their happy face and get put back on the line.
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  • This is one of six Hommel Etamic Wavemove CMMs at Tonawanda. It checks the surface finish at 80 different points on machined heads and blocks for deviations like textural roughness and material waviness. It is accurate down to less than a micron.

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  • The final back-up: a man at a workbench with a set of hand tools.
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  • A cage of robots and stands that perform four quality control checks, with the arm in the center grabbing blocks off the line, passing them from one station to the next and then to a conveyor that sends them to assembly if they pass. The arm on the left laser checks the threads (I told you we'd come back to them). The station to the right of the center arm is used to plug holes that were drilled to access interior parts of the block while it was being finished. Out of frame on the right is the leak-check station. And a machine in the lower left corner checks for any leftover shavings. Check out the Short Cut in the article to watch the process.

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  • Blocks that don't clear this hurdle are set aside.
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  • A Corvette block gets ready to hit the line.
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  • On the side of the block in between the main bearing caps is the laser-etched 2D code that looks like a QR code. It is another measure - on top of the databolts - used to make sure assembly line machine is performing the proper process on the proper block.
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  • This 2D code is accompanied by printed information: B8K indicates a Corvette block, and the number that begins with T1 is like a VIN for the cylinder block, detailing all of its specifics including the and shift when it was made.
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  • Beneath the fan at the top of the picture and next to the red cup, that's a camera used to read the 2D code. These can pinpoint the exact time a block or head went through a particular process.
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  • Other machines like this one have RFID readers in their bases to collect the information on the databolt. In this case the reader is next to the brown, rounded-off panel with the red arrow, just above the "106."
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  • This is what it looks like.
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  • Two more cameras used to read 2D codes look down from this machine.
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  • Crankshafts. Because... crankshafts. And because a line just for crankshafts is being installed at the plant.
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  • This is where engines get "stuffed." With pistons. Check out the article for a Short Cut on the boring and "stuffing" of a block.
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  • Sleeves used to place pistons in the cylinders.
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  • Piston squirters at the base of each cylinder.
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  • Blocks on their merry way to the middle of the floor where they'll be joined to finished cylinders.
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  • There are three Smart Cell machines that install 48 parts on each cylinder head in 40 seconds: valves, seals, springs and associated components. The red and orange trays contain the parts needed for a particular kind of head, and each Smart Cell is fed the trays and heads by an automated pallet-positioning system and two mobile robotic arms. Check out the Short Cut in the article to see it in action.

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  • The 2D code on a cylinder head.
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  • A supervisor stands outside a Smart Cell.
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  • One of the robotic arms used to feed blocks and trays to a Smart Cell. The empty trays mean this head has been built up.
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  • The Smart Cell robots installing valves assemblies on a cylinder head.
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  • The head being turned over for the next stage in the process.
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  • The direct-injection system.
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  • The underside of the SIDI fuel injection system, showing the spring underneath the high-pressure pump that is run off a lobe on the camshaft.
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  • Once attached to the head, every injection system is tested for leaks using helium, the second-smallest element, with a mass spectrometer than can measure flow of less than one part per billion. If a system passes the helium test then one can expect the much larger fuel molecule to be properly contained.
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  • As Boys II Men said: "injection, fellas..."
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  • Guess what - they also get 2D codes. Quality control, see...
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  • The underside of a V6 cylinder head.
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  • The injector tips that will squirt fuel at 2,175 psi.
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  • The cylinder-head torque-down machine.
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  • Every block and head gets a cold-tested - Tonawanda stopped hot-testing 16 years ago - for 90 seconds. An electric motor is connected to the block to crank it up to 2,000 rpm. Each of the three testing stands has 18 transducers, three electrical connections, three vibration sensors and two temperature probes checking 1,660 points and producing waveform results, with this giant monitor displaying a number of them.
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  • We were told that less than one engine out of 600 produced has a problem. When they do, the numerous checks ensure they get shunted off the line --
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  • and tagged in their shame to have their anomalies are investigated.
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  • Image Credit: GM
  • Image Credit: GM
  • After all that, here's a bit of low-tech: a bicycle water bottle and cage is used to collect any condensation in the pneumatic lines that run the flying robots. When we expressed shock to our tour guide at seeing a plain old water bottle among a hundreds of millions of dollars of factory upgrades, he said, "It works."
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Our first thought on stepping onto the plant floor: "Modern Marvels, here we come."