The eagle eye that watches over the Hambach smart plant production line, Claire Mutin is in charge of the smart fortwo assembly planning. As part of her responsibilities, she not only coordinates employees, but also related suppliers located right next to the production facilities. Under her careful monitoring, the new smart fortwo takes shape – based on precisely timed teamwork.
One chassis after the next floats through the air on yellow brackets. First, high above the assembly operators’ heads, then the colorful procession slowly sinks to receive its seats and dashboards. Each movement has to be spot-on, otherwise the line will stop – and thus the entire production chain. Claire Mutin coordinates this assembly line work with plenty of energy – and always a smile.
smart magazine: Mrs. Mutin, how do you ensure that production never grinds to a halt?
Claire Mutin: Assembly planning involves the analysis and organization of the work and production processes within a plant. In other words: For each and every part of the smart fortwo, we need to know how long it will take in production.
smart magazine: This requires perfect coordination of the plant’s people and machines. How do you come up with an ideal rhythm?
Claire Mutin: As a rule, this is always about finding a compromise. We try to provide our employees with optimum working conditions. Ergonomics play an important part: Assembly should be as easy as possible and everyone should be able to work efficiently. To safeguard our high standards, we give our employees enough time for their work – and, naturally, the best possible tools.
smart magazine: Hambach is one of the world’s most state-of-the-art car factories. How does it differ from other plants?
Claire Mutin: In 1997, the plant was built specifically for the smart production; this was based on an approach to “thinking” a production plant that is still entirely novel today. Even the architecture shows how special it is: From above, the blueprint resembles a large plus sign with arms, or “branches,” where suppliers can deliver parts like doors, seats, or engines straight to the required station. All of this happens just in time, i. e. only when parts are actually needed. This saves an incredible amount of storage space, shortens internal routes, and really speeds up the assembly process.
When Claire Mutin leaves her office at the edge of the “Branch 3000” assembly hall, to visit the production line, she first dons her work coat. Now she – who just a few moments ago discussed technical details with the development department at smart HQ – speaks the language of the assembly staff. Are supplies coming in okay? Do they have enough time for all operations? What could be improved?
smart magazine: Could you describe your average working day?
Claire Mutin: There are two shifts and I need to be on good terms with both of them. At our end, many things come together, so a large part of my work is about communication. The exchange with assembly employees is especially important: They are the only ones who can tell me what works well – and what doesn’t.
smart magazine: So, engineers and operators work hand in hand?
Claire Mutin: Exactly. In assembly planning we always need to think a step ahead. That’s why we are where assembly information and development input comes together. For the past six months, we have been producing the new smart fortwo while, at the same time, implementing some new models like a right-hand drive version of the new smart and vehicles for the US market that haven’t entered regular production yet.
smart magazine: Has the size of the smart also influenced the plant’s architecture?
Claire Mutin: Since we build small cars, the stations are also somewhat smaller. At the same time, the new model comprises far more individual parts than its predecessor, i. e. an assembly operator is now dealing with more than twice the number of components. Storing all these parts in a limited amount of space is a tough, but very exciting challenge.
smart magazine: What would make a day in assembly planning perfect?
Claire Mutin: Any day that goes off without a hitch is a perfect day. Even better, but naturally less frequent, is seeing a new model leave the line for the very first time. When, after all those sketches, prototypes, and graphics, you are suddenly faced with a real car – fresh from the paint shop and with four wheels – then you can see that all the hard work was truly worth it.
Watch our video “Behind the scenes in smartville” featuring logistics project manager Christophe Balthazard, paintshop coordinator Alexandre Zettl, engineer Claire Mutin who schedules the production process and quality control manager Raphaël Schuster.
All pictures, incl. the header image: Philipp Wente