Bridging the gap between design engineering and manufacturing functions was the key topic at the International Automotive Manufacturing Conference and Exhibition May 13-15 in Detroit.
Joe Spielman, general manager of General Motors' Metal Fabricating Division, says a big problem affecting vehicle quality is the lack of cooperation between design engineers and manufacturing engineers. In an interview with Automotive News Staff Reporter Kathy Jackson, Spielman said the two sides must work together during the design process to ensure that the designed parts can be built.
So quality problems don't necessarily originate in the plants?
Engineers have a big portion of the ultimate quality. In other words, are they designing vehicles so they can be built properly? The quality process begins at design (and continues) all the way to the plant where the vehicles are put together.
What is General Motors doing to try to correct the problem?
You can't get high value, high quality and low cost unless you have engineers working hand in hand. One good example is that we have die engineers right in the design studio. That would have been unheard of just five years ago.
Have you set standards and goals?
It's our desire to say that 100 percent of the sheet metal parts are buildable before they come out of the design studio.
Where are you now?
Probably 94 percent to 95 percent.
What percent of a vehicle program is sheet metal?
Sheet metal is about 20 percent of a car program. So if it's a $500 million program, you can figure you're spending $100 million on sheet metal, dies and so forth.
Is anything else that high?
Powertrain is probably close, but sheet metal is the most important thing because it's something that everybody sees and touches. A customer sees the doors, hoods and fenders. It's the first perception of a vehicle.
How does your current performance compare with that of years past?
About three years ago, we probably had 20 percent to 25 percent of the parts that weren't buildable when they came out of the studio.
How much does it cost you when parts come back?
If you can do it all right the first time you can probably save 25 percent to 30 percent of the cost of the parts. It's big money.
What about your competitors?
We benchmark Toyota, and we are getting very close to Toyota's standards. Toyota is around 97 percent or 98 percent; they're not perfect either. Because Toyota is such a tough competitor, we have spent a lot of time learning their operation.
What about Ford and Chrysler?
I haven't really benchmarked them, but looking at the recent cars that have come out, I would say that Chrysler is ahead of Ford. We take apart a car and look at the design to see how simple they are to put together, and Chrysler appears to be making great progress. Ford seems to be not making as much progress.
Is Chrysler making more progress than GM?
No, I think we're both making good progress.
Are there any exemplary plants in the GM system?
When you talk about hours per cars, you have (assembly) plants like Oshawa (Canada) that are approaching Toyota level. Grand Rapids (Mich.) stamping is approaching world-class hits per hour.
Is stamping something you want to keep close to GM?
We consider major stamping, major body panels a core part of the company. Anybody who's a real player in the market understands that stamping is something you'd better be good at because that is what the customer sees.
Is this a global program?
Absolutely. We just came back from a General Motors Leadership Conference, and there were two themes: global and common.
What's your bottom-line objective for 1997 for metal fabricating operations?
Somewhere in the neighborhood of a 10 percent improvement in the model lines.
How does that compare to last year?
We got about a 10 percent improvement last year also.
Can you do better than 10 percent?
I think 10 percent a year is a pretty good target.