Benteler, a 1998 PACE winner, knew it had to innovate to capture the Ford Windstar 98 rear axle order from another long-standing supplier. Benteler creatively drew on its history of tubular products processes and manufacturing to apply them to what was for them a new and different automotive product. By replacing the long-standard stamped U-shape crossbeam and torsion bar with a single crushed tube, Benteler significantly lowered cost to the customer, reduced weight by 9%, and improved the resulting product with increased stiffness and increased intrinsic quality by eliminating parts and welds. Key enabling innovations came from throughout the organization, ranging from engineers to a toolmaker on the shop floor, reflecting Benteler's continuing success in fostering innovation throughout their organization.
In the process, Benteler actually improved upon a different design on the basis of which they initially won the Windstar contract. In addition, Benteler faced a last-minute engineering challenge to eliminate a warranty problem in the existing design due to excessive bending of the trailing arm. To solve this, they again were forced to innovate, working with a key outside supplier to develop a unique zone heat-treating process for flat stampings. This required finding and learning to stamp a suitable heat-treatable alloy. As befits a PACE winner, they have already been applying this innovation to a new design for bumpers, allowing Benteler to develop and market a product line in which they had no prior experience. In the course of developing this product they have thus tapped resources both external and internal, and designed proprietary equipment and processes to build a patented product.
In addition, their success with the original Windstar program has helped Benteler to win the contracts for the rear axle assembly for the Ford Escort replacement in both Europe and North America, and the front chassis/engine mount for the Chrysler Neon replacement.