FCA USA’s Sterling Heights Assembly Plant: Body Shop and Paint Shop

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Sterling Heights, Michigan
1,475,000 square feet (combined)
Construction Management At Risk
Date Completed:
Construction & Design Award, Honorable Mention, Engineering Society of Detroit

The Sterling Heights Assembly Plant (SHAP) first opened in 1953 as missile plant, producing jet engines for the U.S. Army. Eleven years after its 1980 conversion to an automobile plant, nearly 1.3 million vehicles had rolled off the line at SHAP, putting the facility on the map as a great American auto-making facility

Revival of a landmark

In 2010, Chrysler Group LLC announced it would invest nearly $850 million in a new state-of-the-art paint shop, as well as the installation of new machinery, tooling and material-handling equipment, at SHAP. The following year, it added $165 million to the investment for a one million-square-foot body shop. Walbridge was hired as construction manager on the plant expansion. The work brought 1.9 million square feet of new floor space to SHAP, upping the plant’s square footage to roughly 5 million.

At 1,016,000 square feet, the new body shop is one of the largest in North America, and it was constructed with the goal of achieving LEED© Gold certification – the U.S. Green Building Council’s second highest designation through its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. Walbridge coordinated the shop’s single-story construction with Chrysler Group’s process installation team, taking measures to pre-purchase everything needed for the job to meet long-lead times upfront. Thanks to synergy between Walbridge, Chrysler Group’s process teams and designers, the new body shop was completed in seamless fashion.

Challenges, Solutions and Benefits

SHAP’s new three-level, one million square-foot paint shop was a bit more challenging, but Walbridge ensured that the shop was ready to be commissioned on time to launch a new vehicle. In order to meet the construction timeline, Walbridge rearranged its sequenced activities to focus on process related critical path items to allow process installations to begin prior to the building activities being completed. The team was able to meet the client’s requested deadlines and coordinated work activities with process installations over multiple shifts to alleviate stacked trades.

In addition to new state-of-the-art manufacturing areas, both the new body shop and paint shop feature office spaces, cafeterias and locker rooms.

A New Approach to Automotive Painting

Inside the new paint shop at SHAP, vehicles are first dunked into a pool, where it gets seven baths and then seven showers before an electrically-charged coat of primer is applied as the paint job’s foundational line of defense. Next the underbody is moved through a sealing station, where the car is flipped upside down in rotisserie fashion to prevent dripping. After that, 10 robots go to work powder coating the vehicle’s exterior, applying a hard second layer of defense (the 3 percent of powder that doesn’t make it onto each car falls into floor grates where it’s collected for use on the next vehicle). Finally, three coats of paint are applied, which gives the vehicle a 3-D appearance and extra protection against corrosion.