Like many factories across the country, Detroit Manufacturing Systems, located on the city’s northwest side, has its hands full dealing with labor challenges and supply chain delays.
The company, which this year is on pace to record $1 billion in revenue, is running at around 70 percent capacity due to parts delays. One culprit is computer chips, which have been slowed by strong demand for consumer electronics and supply problems caused by a few key plants in the Far East that were impacted by fires.
Some smaller suppliers, meanwhile, haven’t been able to meet parts delivery schedules due to a lack of workers.
On top of that, Detroit Manufacturing Systems, or DMS, is dealing with another major challenge: How to sequence instrument panels for two separate powertrains — internal combustion engines and electric vehicles — within the same facility. While most parts suppliers run single assembly lines, the introduction of electric vehicles like the Ford F-150 Lightning has caused DMS to be much more creative to meet customer orders.
Apart from the Lightning, which is so popular Ford reports orders are running at four times the estimated forecasts, DMS assembles instrument panels and center consoles for other Ford vehicles like the Mustang, Explorer, F-150, and Ranger, as well as the Lincoln Navigator, Expedition, and Aviator.
“We designed and set up another assembly line for electric vehicle instrument panels, and then we sequence the two lines as we go through final inspections,” Scott Cieslak, CFO of DMS, said during a recent tour of the company’s 482,000-square-foot complex at the northwest convergence of the I-96 and Southfield freeways.
“It was a little tricky getting all the computer and sensor systems working together, but we have enough experience now that we can seamlessly handle what we expect will be rising orders for electric vehicles. We also brought in staff, and increased our knowledge base and technical expertise, to meet the demand for rising automation on assembly lines.”
Advanced technology like Automated Guided Vehicle (AGV) lines, a fully automated system where driverless robots follow sensors embedded in the factory floor to transport parts and components, has allowed DMS to speed up orders without sacrificing quality. The company also developed final inspection stations where instrument panels are scanned by 16 different cameras in a matter of a minute or so.
“The cameras look for any defects, and if we find one, the instrument panel exits the inspection booth, takes a 180-degree turn, and one of our technicians resolves the problem,” Cieslak explained. “From there, the same instrument panel goes back through the inspection station for final clearance. In this way, every instrument panel is ready to go when it arrives at a final assembly plant.”
In addition to automotive, the company, which was founded in 2012, can provide contract manufacturing services for the aerospace and defense, health care, recreational, industrial, and heavy truck markets. Next year, DMS will begin building parts and components for Volvo Heavy Truck.
While performing more than 2.3 million large-scale assemblies per year, the company can “print to order” using 34 different injection molding machines, and can weld parts via ultrasonic, vibration, and hot plate systems. It also provides sub-assembly of robotic and mechanical systems, and can launch, prototype, and provide pre-production parts to its clients.
To make it all go, DMS has more than 1,200 employees, 93 percent of whom are minorities. To expand their knowledge base, where 70 percent of employees reside in local communities in Detroit, the company offers college tuition assistance for students in multiple fields of study, says Bruce Smith, CEO and chairman of DMS.
The DMS Academy, in turn, provides multimedia learning resources in disciplines such as lean manufacturing principles, supervisory skills, employee engagement, and finance.
“The way to reduce poverty is to provide people with economic and educational opportunities,” Smith says. “That’s why we provide scholarships and education payments, and we work in the community to provide mentorship to students at Cornerstone Schools, as well as help local nonprofit organizations such as Winning Futures, the Joey Kocur Foundation, the Black United Fund of Michigan, and more.”
In total, the company reports it has awarded more than $1 million in scholarships and charitable donations.
“We’re one of the largest minority-owned and operated suppliers in the automotive industry,” Smith says. “We touch around 50 percent of what goes into a vehicle, and the faster we can do things without sacrificing quality means customers get their trucks or SUVs that much faster.”