Chrome-plated aluminum wheelFor A-Mold, a supplier of aluminum wheels to General Motors and Mazda, “reinventing the wheel” has never been a better idea. The company, a U.S. operating unit of Japanese UBE, offers a fascinating peek at the use of proprietary process designs to achieve competitive advantage. In the early- 1990s, A-Mold recognized that chrome-plated wheels offered a hot growth opportunity. While consumers liked chrome wheels and were willing to pay a premium for them, carmakers were loathe to offer them because they didn’t hold up well under many driving conditions. A-Mold had a better idea. The company was the first to produce a chrome-plated aluminum wheel that was light enough, durable enough, and affordable enough for sale as original equipment to the Big Three U.S. Automakers. Traditionally, chrome-plating a wheel added up to three pounds of unsuspended weight to an already heavy component. A-Mold challenged tradition by using a squeeze-casting process to improve durability. In addition to being less costly and lighter than traditional low-pressure platings, the squeeze-cast process creates better styling results. More important, the process did away with the need to add a copper “buff” layer to the finished surface, which often masked pockets of plating solution and inevitably led to early corrosion. For A-Mold, extensive automation has driven manufacturing costs out of the process. While reduced labor costs and the simplicity of down-stream processes made possible by the high-pressure squeeze-casting process enable the company to compete with virtually any supplier. A-Mold squeeze-cast wheels are currently being offered as optional equipment on GM’s Cadillacs, Auroras, and Rivieras.
Brown & Sharpe Manufacturing Company – Measuring systems group
System FIVEFrom its roots as the first commercial producer of Vernier calipers nearly a century and a half ago, Brown & Sharpe has enjoyed a long and proud history in the measuring tool marketplace. While the company had become a world leader in a number of markets by the 1970s, it lagged in innovation. The recession of the early-80s, coupled with the strong dollar and inroads by foreign machine tool builders, led to a decade of losses that were only compounded by a multi-year labor dispute. Brown &Sharpe forged a survival strategy for itself centered on a renewed focus on measurement systems. A series of mergers, joint ventures, and other investment in the U.S. and Europe resulted in a reinvigorated company with offerings that (unique in the industry) spanned the complete spectrum of measuring tools and equipment. Brown &Sharpe’s System FIVE is the first flexible computerized measuring machine system for the automotive sheetmetal applications. The patented System FIVE uses a robotic arm to check for dimensional accuracy. Reconfiguring for a new part takes only a few minutes. While a traditional manual inspection can take an entire shift, System FIVE requires just 10 to 20 minutes to complete its measurements and produce its comprehensive computer reports. With System FIVE, the design of a measurement fixture and the instructions for its assembly can be programmed off-line via a graphics software package, with final fixture assembly taking place automatically. Its flexibility not only allows an existing fixture configuration to be reprogrammed to accommodate part revisions, but also permits it to be used for an unlimited array of other component configurations. System FIVE is currently used by the majority of the world’s major automakers, helping them achieve millions of dollars in savings in fixture design and manufacturing costs. Toyota has adopted the system as its standard for all assembly plants worldwide, while Chrysler already has 11 systems in place and plans to add an additional 20 over the next three years. Market penetration is even higher in Europe, reflecting the global auto industry’s confidence in Brown &Sharpe’s ability to deliver and support a world-class product anywhere in the world.
Cherry Corporation, Electrical Products – Automotive Group
The satellite modulesIn 1993, Cherry Corporation’s Electrical Products Automotive Group embarked on a major new design effort to create an integrated single-switch subsystem for use in power window applications. The unique product that emerged combines the moving parts of a standard switch module into a new insert-molded base that includes the stationary switch components, lighting and connector housing and pins. Perhaps more important, it does so at a significantly lower cost than comparably fabricated single-switch assemblies. To help set its product apart in the highly competitive auto electrical marketplace, Cherry worked with OEMs on a method for using indirect colored light to improve the backlighting of door lock and window switches.
Cherry provides a textbook example of an automotive supplier reaching from within to take on more responsibility within the supply chain while reducing costs and increasing quality. In fact, issues of quality and cost were paramount as the company’s team of machine tool and electrical engineering professionals totally redesigned the company’s manufacturing processes to accommodate the innovative new design. The new production system is centered upon a circular central manufacturing cell surrounded by programmed robotic satellites. The satellite modules are fully interchangeable, allowing quick product changeovers simply by removing one or more satellites and wheeling new ones into place. As a result, Cherry has achieved rapid sales growth, with no real increase in floor space or personnel, by applying existing technologies to create a world-class manufacturing system and a world-class product all at the same time.
Dana Corporation, Spicer Heavy Axle and Brake Division
Spicer’s S135-S/S150-S axle programSpicer’s S135-S/S150-S axle program developed a lightweight, economical, reliable drive axle for the class six and seven medium-duty truck market. The axles, which have 21% fewer parts than before and are available in a variety of configurations, are the first ever to use a fixed pinion mounting technique to position the pinion gear. This provides stronger and quieter performance with reduced potential for oil leaks and warranty claims due to assembly error. Fixed pinion mounting also saves Spicer valuable assembly time by eliminating the need to use adjustable shims for pinion positioning.
Gear life has been extended tem-fold, while new, proprietary systems are being used to machine rings, pinions, and housings to reduce assembly tolerances five-fold. All told, upwards of 12,000 units have been manufactured using this production process since the new axle was introduced in 1994, and the company has yet to receive its first warranty return. In fact, the product’s proven record of durability has enabled Spicer to offer customers an attention-getting lifetime warranty and, not surprisingly, has earned the company awards for quality from most of its key customers, including Navistar International Transportation, Paccar, Kenworth, and Ford.
Delco Electronics Corporation
GEN IIDelco is a pioneer in the use of hybrid under-the –hood manifold pressure sensors to optimize fuel economy while minimizing emissions. Delco applies that pioneering spirit as it seeks ways to continually improve its product. Driven by ever-toughening federal emission standards, Delco last year began producing the GEN II, a second-generation manifold absolute pressure, or MAP, sensor that is smaller, lighter, more reliable and versatile, and less expensive than its GEN I predecessor.
The GEN II sensor is 70% smaller than its first generation cousin, and the number of components has been reduced by nearly half, from 34 to 18. Fewer components mean reduced warranty costs, while the compact size and no-bracket installation make it ideal for today’s crowded engine compartment. More than one million GEN II sensors have already been manufactured, and first-year production is targeted at three to four million units. As a global organization, Delco displays a strong cultural focus on innovation and on creating long-term, value-driven partnerships with its customers. Delco employees benefit from the company’s strong internal emphasis on rewarding innovative behaviors, which has inspired innovations to a wide range of products. While many companies demonstrate innovative abilities, few can point to Delco’s progress in institutionalizing a culture of innovation throughout the organization.
Detroit Edison, energy Marketing & Distribution
Detroit Edison’s Special Manufacturing ContractDetroit Edison’s Special Manufacturing Contract will save the Big Three several millions of dollars a year on their local factory operating costs and locks in current rates for 10 years. The arrangement covers 54 south Michigan car plants, parts factories, research, and development centers and office buildings. Detroit Edison has also assigned full-time, on-site, efficiency advisers to each customer facility to help the auto makers further reduce their operating costs and improve quality. Furthermore, Detroit Edison’s Service Quality Guarantee calls for the utility to pay an agreed-upon amount should a facility lose power or be subject to even a brief degradation in service. The company has installed highly sensitive monitoring equipment at key customer sites that can measure and record voltage sags lasting but a fraction of a second.
Detroit Edison’s Best Feed service provides an innovative approach to minimizing costly down9time due to power outages. Large industrial facilities typically receive power through two separate transmission lines, each of which carries 50% of the plant’s load. With the Best Feed system, all of the factory’s load is placed on a single line, leaving the second line available as a protective back-up. Additionally, Detroit Edison has accumulated over 750,000 miles of electric vehicle operating and maintenance experience through company-sponsored programs. This experience is being used as part of the overall partnerships between Detroit Edison and the automotive industry to support the Big Three, their suppliers, and several national organizations involved with the commercialization of electric vehicles.
Fayette Tubular Products Incorporated
Spinning techniqueThe auto industry’s move from CFC-12 refrigerant to the more environmentally friendly HFC-134a presented two opportunities to Fayette Tubular Products, a Tier I supplier of air conditioning components to the world automotive market. First, Fayette designed a receiver/dryer manufactured from aluminum rather than steel, which trimmed the weight of each unit by 20%. Fayette also began joining receiver/dryer components using a “spinning” technique to create a leak-free joint without the welding, brazing, and painting that had previously been required. Spinning relies on the friction created when two rotating components come into contact with one another to join two pieces of metal. In the case of Fayette’s receiver/dryer, the assembled unit is spun at about 2,500 rpm, while a small wheel spinning at just 100 to 200 rpm touches the joint. The friction created is just sufficient to seal the joint without melting the highly heat-sensitive aluminum. No waste is created, and the joint needs no special treatment after it is formed. While many automakers initially were hesitant about the new process, Chrysler Corp. took the plunge and has included Fayette’s received/dryer in its Cirrus, Dodge Stratus, and Plymouth Breeze sedans. The technology is currently under review by other automakers as well who are awaiting Fayette’s next generation of products. Fayette has successfully responded to changes in the way the automotive industry looks at suppliers. The company’s entire culture is dedicated to the design of standardized products with the flexibility to be customized to individual customer needs without significant incremental increases in tooling, engineering, or design costs.
Gage Products Company
Gage’s transformationBy simultaneously reshaping its own internal culture and operating methodologies, Gage has successfully repositioned itself as a true service provider and a valuable resource that is helping customers achieve significant cost savings through reduced paint and solvent usage and the elimination of hazardous waste disposal costs. Five years ago, the family-owned company embarked on a bold plan to transform itself from a commodity supplier of automotive paint solvents into a single source provider of solutions to environmental and other problems related to their use and disposal. That transformation called for significant enhancements to Gage’s internal capabilities and core competencies that would elevate in to a consultative role. Gage also sought to create value for its customers by providing them with in-plant service technicians to analyze continuously the efficiency and quality of their painting systems.
Gage’s transformation focused on two areas:
Acquiring the equipment and providing the employee training necessary to allow the company to reclaim and recycle its customers’ used solvents without the need to subcontract with independent recycling providers. This boosts the productivity and efficiency of Gage’s recycling operations and allows it to use a greater proportion of recycled solvents in its virgin solvent blends. Gage can also analyze the used solvents recovered from each customer plant to help automakers fine-tune their painting processes – producing major cost savings for its customers.
Staffing and training a team of service technicians to analyze solvent waste streams. These technicians are on-call 24 hours a day to provide customized analyses that ensure that customers’ painting equipment operates at maximum efficiency that plant workers observe proper operating procedures, and that desired emission levels for volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are maintained.
Gentex Corporation, Automotive Systems Group
The Gentex Night Vision Safety Compass MirrorGentex is a 1995 PACE Award recipient and the global leader in the auto-dimming rear view mirror market. The company’s latest innovation, the Gentex Night Vision Safety Compass Mirror, marks a bold step forward in the use of the rear-view mirror location to house electronic displays that no longer fit on today’s crowded dashboards. Adding a compass display to an auto-dimming glass electrochromic element proved to be no easy task. In addition to creating an overseas strategic partnership to obtain certain electronic components, new manufacturing methods had to be developed to etch an optically clean clear section in each mirror cost-effectively. Since the light of the display passes through the dimming layer of the mirror, sophisticated electronic circuitry was also needed to permit visibility in all lighting conditions, from bright sun to darkness of night. By listening carefully to customers, the company was able to bring the Gentex Night Vision Safety Compass Mirror to fruition. The original idea, in fact, stemmed from GM’s desire to offer a compass system that improved upon existing products despite the lack of dashboard space. Despite the numerous engineering, technical, and other hurdles that had to be overcome, Gentex completed the process in less than a year. The feature is so popular with Cadillac customers that more than half of all 1995 Cadillacs sold included the compass mirror option, far more than the 20 % take-up rate that GM originally projected.
Johnson Controls Inc., Automotive Systems Group
Multifaceted training program, QuestDespite its leading share of the automotive seating market in North America and Europe, 1995 PACE Award recipient Johnson Controls continues to challenge its fundamental business practices as it undergoes its own cultural transformation and a significant expansion of its development capabilities. The company’s best-in-class, multifaceted training program, Quest, provides every employee with a common vision and common set of skills to help improve product quality and customer satisfaction. Quest “passport” training spotlights seven key quality control methods and introduces such important management concepts as total productive maintenance and Kanban. Johnson Controls has also introduced a highly disciplined system for the development of new products. In one case, 17 weeks were trimmed off a 54-week development process. Substantial investments have also been made to create the infrastructure needed to support this faster-paced product development cycle. These investments include an expanded Design and Styling Studio and Johnson Controls’ own dynamic sled test facility. As excellent example of how Johnson Controls’ innovative approaches come together is the company’s introduction of a new integrated structural seat assembly for the Chrysler Sebring. The Integrated Structural Seat System integrates a three-point belt directly into the seat structure to enhance safety, ergonomics, and ease of use. While similarly designed components have existed for some time, their application has historically been limited to a few high-cost, low-volume European automobiles. Johnson Controls’ Integrated Structural Seat is the first to be introduced for large-scale production. Finally, Johnson Controls’ Uni-Trim Cartridge Bonding Style System utilizes a unique molding process to achieve complex, aggressively styled seat designs at a lower cost. Johnson Controls has reengineered this proprietary process to reduce dramatically manufacturing costs and cycle time and increase output. For Chrysler and its JA series automobiles this led to significant per-car savings over traditional cut-and-sew methods.
Lear Seating Corporation
Comprehensive benchmarking programLear Seating Corporation is translating motorists’ subjective judgments about comfort into an objective formula for seat design. This is no easy task, given that customer tastes vary substantially with sex, age, weight, and number other variables. The company’s comprehensive benchmarking program uses customer research, physical seat measurements, anthropometry and body pressure distribution measurements to establish best-in-class seating guidelines that are consistent with customer needs and preferences in a broad array of market segments. Over the past two and a half years, Lear has benchmarked some 140 seats from vehicles sold in North America, as well as more than 50 seats from automakers in three European countries. Lear has begun a similar benchmarking process for integrated child safety seats, a rapidly growing market segment. Also contributing to Lear Seating’s market success is its proprietary Sure-Bod process, which enhances seat designs and improves durability by eliminating the need for mechanical attachment devices to secure trim covers to foam pads. This innovative manufacturing process results in increased manufacturing efficiency and lower production costs, along with the ability to detach and recover the trim material in the event of a defect. Finally, Lear’s Program management process helps optimize all major product and process decisions through the visual monitoring and control of all key business, technical, and timing elements of complex process development programs. The electronic, online visual wall system documents business program objectives, defines the tasks necessary to meet program targets, assigns responsibility for actions and schedules, and maintains an integrated estimate of project costs. A particularly useful feature is the ability to recomputed continually total project costs and revise instantaneously project schedules in the event that any element of a project deviates from the plan.
Progressive Tool and Industries Company
Quality Reliability Information SystemOver the years, this leader in tooling solutions for automated welding systems, chassis systems, and engine transmission assembly and test systems has relied on a strategy of evolutionary and revolutionary innovation. The “Overhead Bodyside Assembly System” is a good example. Ford’s UN-46 Explorer program presented PICO with an opportunity to redefine how bodysides are put together. Former horizontal body-wide welding systems led to dimensional instability, took up too much floor space, required awkward welding of top and bottom sides, and required heavy mechanical clamping to position body panels. PICO developed its system for positioning body panels vertically, thus having transfer conveyor double as a holding mechanism, eliminating the need for prior handling and clamping steps. In addition, improved dimensional stability was achieved during welding operations, more and easier robotics access was allowed at each station, and less floor space was required. This innovative system has already achieved significant market penetration due to the improvements it offers in efficiency, quality, and reduced inaccuracy, handling and space-related production costs. PICO was again challenged by Ford engineering to develop and implement in-process air testing of transmissions. Its AX4N Pump and Main Control Air Test System is faster, costs less, requires fewer tests stands, offers greater flexibility, and is more accurate than prior oil-based systems. And since air testing is far less messy than oil testing, there is also less maintenance and reduced environmental and safety concerns. In addition, PICO’s “Quality Reliability Information System” (QRIS), a system for providing performance information back through PICO product design and development teams, helps dramatically reduce or eliminate field failures and early product cycle “mortalities.” Like the innovative Overhead Bodyside Assembly System devised by PICO, innovation permeates the company’s practices. It even extends to PICO’s approach to controlling a stable force of highly trained and qualified personnel by “temping out”
Ryder Dedicated Logistics, Automotive Group
Ryder Dedicated LogisticsWhen a new Saturn rolls off the assembly line in Spring Hill, Tennessee, it’s not a Saturn employee who routes the car to a dealership. And when a new Avalon comes together in Georgetown, Kentucky, it’s not Toyota that has rounded up the parts from suppliers around the region. These auto plants and others across the U.S. rely on Ryder Dedicated Logistics to handle their total materials management and logistics needs. For the past several years, Ryder has assumed responsibility for developing, coordinating, and managing all aspects of a production facility’s inbound and outbound logistics for North America’s major auto manufacturers, including transportation, warehousing, purchasing, and inventory control. Ryder allows automakers to avoid the headaches and resource drains associated with transporting raw materials and finished products so they can focus on what they do best – building cars. But the company’s greatest growth opportunity may well lie in Ryder’s ability to provide an “integrated logistics” approach to total supply-chain management. That means Ryder assumes responsibility for tracking and managing everything that goes into an auto plant and everything that comes out. To capitalize further on the current outsourcing trend, Ryder continues to widen its service offerings that currently range from handling site searches for new supplier plants or warehouses and helping to determine equipment needs for facilities under contract, to managing communications and data flow. Ryder is positioning itself to provide a range of value added services, including performing actual subassembly work for vehicle production.
Dana Corporation, Parish Light Vehicle Structure Division
DriveshaftsWhat began with driveshafts has blossomed into just-in-time delivery of complete frames to a transplant automaker. Dana’s Parish Light Vehicle Structures Division’s newly constructed frame assembly plant last year began supplying New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI), the Toyota-GM joint venture, with frames for Toyota’s Tacoma compact pickup truck. Parish joins its sister company, Dana’s Spicer Driveshaft Division, as a first-tier supplier to the Tacoma pickup. Dana invested heavily in tis 100,000-square-foot, Stockton, California plant, which can produce up to 700 frames a day, and is the first facility in North America that can provide frames just-in-time and just-in-sequence.
In addition to state-of-the-art robotic assembly and paint systems, the plant was designed with a range of redundant systems to prevent unanticipated outages from disrupting production at NUMMI’s Fremont, California assembly facility 63 miles away. Key highlights of the plant are the remarkable seven-second changeover time on 11 Toyota frame models, as well as the ability to produce frames in lot sizes as small as one to accommodate special needs. But just as interesting as the facility itself is the unique and highly successful relationship that has evolved between the two companies. Clearly, subcontracting such a critical component of its lean production system to a relatively new partner on a sole-source basis is a bold step for the world-class automaker. Eleven Parish employees were specially trained in Japan, while Dana and Toyota production engineers worked hand-in-hand to develop and fine-tune the manufacturing processes now in use at the 200-employee facility.