Virtual meetings help JCI slash costs

Virtual meetings still may be in their infancy, but they are already proving their staying power.

John Waraniak, director of e-business speed for the Automotive Systems Group of Johnson Controls Inc. in Plymouth, Mich., says technology allows global companies to get the job done better, faster and cheaper.

Johnson Controls is putting virtual meetings and Web casts to the test. Using new product data management methods involving virtual meetings, Waraniak estimates the company has been able to cut 30 percent to 50 percent of target costs on some expensive components.

Seat costs, for example, went from $540 to $280 per unit. The company has experimented with virtual meetings since April 2000. Since then, dozens of key meetings have been held virtually, including live teleconferences and video conferences. Corporate meetings also are Web cast.

Virtual meeting technology is fairly simple. Basic tools needed are a computer, Web browser and high-speed Internet access.

Despite cost savings and efficiencies, virtual meetings should not be a substitute for human interaction, proponents say. But they are ideal for automotive engineering teams and supplier partners to collaborate on design decisions and changes without spending a bundle on travel and meeting expenses.

Waraniak says about 85 percent of product development decisions are made in the first 15 percent of a budget. Therefore, upstream is the best time to catch problems.

At Johnson Controls, global engineering teams use the virtual model to electronically mark a document reflecting the latest changes on a seat belt component. Ideally, it's still at the math-model stage, so big changes are possible.

"You can virtually view the same math model or CAD/CAM drawing in Yokohama, Japan, at the same time as someone in Burscheid, Germany; Milan, Italy; or Holland, Mich., does," Waraniak says.

You can reach Lillie Guyer at autonews@crain.com

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