ARLINGTON — With a giant thud that shook its three-story-tall enclosure, a stamping machine clamped down on a flat piece of galvanized steel, instantly turning it into a door panel for a 2015 GMC Yukon.“It has close to 200 tons of pressure, with some air cushion assistance,” explained Timothy Flint, a shift leader at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Arlington. As he spoke, the stamping machine continued pressing into shape one door panel after another, about one every 10 seconds.Nearly 60 years after GM put its initial stamp on North Texas by opening the assembly plant, the company is adding a new wrinkle to its Arlington facility.It’s called a stamping plant, where large components such as doors, hoods and fenders will be fashioned for the next generation of Yukons, Cadillac Escalades and Chevrolet Suburbans and Tahoes.Company officials joined area elected leaders Monday to celebrate the grand opening of the plant, which already employs about 180 people in three shifts. It is making components for GM’s stable of large sport utility vehicles for the 2015 model year, which will hit showrooms next year.The plant occupies a three-story, 175-foot-long building on the north end of GM’s Arlington campus. Building the plant cost GM about $200 million, but now that it’s open the facility will no longer have to ship in large components from other states.“We’re going to save $40 million a year in transportation costs making panels here versus making them in Indiana, Ohio and Tennessee,” said Tim Lee, GM executive vice president of global manufacturing and chairman of GM China. “In effect, it [the savings] pays for the facility.”The new plant is part of a $530 milliion expansion and renovation at the nearly 60-year-old facility to prepare for the new line of big SUVs. After adding 1,000 jobs, GM now employs more than 4,200 people in three shifts at its Arlington facility, which builds about 1,200 SUVs per day.The opening of the plant is the latest sign that GM, which is investing several billion dollars globally to improve its efficiency, is enjoying a bounce-back after its 2009 bankruptcy.“I see evidence of a resurgence in our country’s manufacturing capability,” said Belinda Langley, chairwoman of United Auto Workers Local 276 Unit 1 in North Texas.The 2015 vehicles built in Arlington will boast many high-end features, including jimmy-proof doors and radar-equipped collision avoidance.After the grand opening ceremony Monday, Lee said in an interview that GM’s Arlington plant is “one of the most critical plants we have in the world.”He said one reason he thinks so highly of the facility is the “eloquent” way in which GM has implemented its “global manufacturing system” there.The system was put in place many years ago as GM sought to overhaul its business style — even borrowing ideas from some foreign automakers. It is built on the philosophy that a plant can function properly only if its employees understand the mission and are properly trained, and that any problems in production are immediately identified and repaired at their core.“Enthusiasm is infectious and contagious, and enthusiasm today is a huge contrast to where the company was 20 to 25 years ago,” Lee said.To celebrate the grand opening of the stamping plant, the company awarded $75,000 to area charities from the GM Foundation.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796 Twitter: @gdickson