The fact that production did not crash this spring at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Honda of America Manufacturing is largely because of a group that worked long hours with no recognition to put a small Texas supplier plant back in business.
North American production for both automakers was briefly at risk.
An April 5 fire at Anderton Castings in Troy, Texas, 120 miles south of Dallas, destroyed half of the factory, which makes lightweight planetary carriers needed for the ZF transmissions used by Honda and FCA. The factory is part of privately owned Anderton Industries of Troy, Mich.
The fire started when a bottle of nitrogen fell into a cauldron of molten metal, quickly erupting into flames that ignited the factory roof. No workers were hurt, but the resulting heat melted castings and destroyed some of the plant's tooling, halting production at the 300-employee factory.
Engineers from Honda and FCA arrived almost immediately to survey the damage. They began working together to find a way to get the castings both needed back into production.
"In the auto industry, you're all one team when a supplier's in trouble," said Mark Sanders, a die mold specialist at Honda's Anna Engine Plant in Anna, Ohio, who was dispatched to the scene.
"We were pulling tooling out of the burned building that was still smoldering," Sanders said. "It looked pretty bleak."
Sanders and a Honda colleague, five FCA specialists and another 15 to 20 people from Anderton spent the next few weeks working on-site from 6 a.m. until midnight. The group sorted through molds and cleaned, repaired or replaced tooling. More than 100 contractors and employees helped quickly tear down the damaged plant to begin rebuilding.
The halted production also caused the plant's molten aluminum to harden in its production tooling. The "frozen" metal had to be slowly baked out of the tools to make them usable.
With electricity unavailable, diesel generators supplied power for the lights and tools for the restoration effort. The natural gas lines that supplied the furnaces for the casting work had to be rebuilt.
Anderton slowly came back in late April, but the supplier had to acquire four new die casting machines. Two of the machines it needed were about to be delivered to another company. That company instead allowed the machines to go to Anderton to help it resume business, according to an April 27 report posted on the company website by Don Porritt, general manager of the Texas plant.
According to Porritt, Anderton also shipped some of its intact tooling to its plant in Monterrey, Mexico, where castings production could resume as the Texas factory started rebuilding.
Automotive News asked Porritt in June for an update on the recovery. He declined to comment beyond saying, "It has been a successful effort so far."