In 2003 Chrysler Group challenged its suppliers to bring forward new concepts in products or processes that would improve customer satisfaction and value in their vehicles. The program was a continuation of their Material Cost Management Process ("MCM") that had been launched in 2000.
One area of desired improvement was warranty claims from problems with window lift systems. Traditional window regulators are made from steel cables or stampings and lubricated with grease. The systems can bind and create motor strain in extreme cold conditions. In North America alone, nearly $20 million is spent annually by OEM's to service window regulators.
Rochester Hills-based DURA Automotive Systems had been developing an all-new greaseless window-lift system made from a composite that showed great promise in improving many of the reliability and performance concerns associated with traditional steel regulators. The design concept, which was nearing completion of validation testing, was less costly to manufacture, significantly lighter weight, and was easier for assembly installation. The product was marketed under the name DURA RackLiftTM Lightweight Window Lift System. DURA had been unable to generate significant customer interest for a collaborative development project with any of it's OEM customers.
Addressing the spirit of the MCM process directly, DURA presented the design concept and development plan for RackLiftTM to a team of purchasing, engineering, and quality representatives at Chrysler Group. Although the product had not yet completed testing to a new and much more stringent set of specifications that Chrysler Group had recently approved, instead of passing the project off as too risky, Chrysler assigned dedicated engineering and project management resources to help DURA engineering teams complete validation of the design in test vehicles. Test labs, environmental testing and other necessary testing resources were made available to the team. If the plan worked as presented, RackLiftTM would be the first window lift system to perform to the new specifications.
With the combined team resources of DURA and Chrysler, the RackLiftTM innovation successfully completed all eight phases of a disciplined stage-gated process. The product became more robust as a result of the improvements made during validation, and upon completion of the requirements, Chrysler awarded DURA their first mass-production contract to be released as an enhancement to their popular PT Cruiser.
Without Chrysler's spirit of receptivity and collaboration, this innovation might never have been fully commercialized.