Developing new auto parts is taking too long and costing too much to suit the U.S. auto industry.
A survey of major North American suppliers finds that the parts makers themselves believe improvements are necessary, especially as automakers hand them more responsibility for component development.
'This raises a real question about the effect that the growing use of modularity and systems integration could have on lead times in future vehicle development,' said William Raftery, principal of Raftery Consulting in Pinehurst, N.C., who produced the survey. 'If a company feels it's already taking too long to develop a prototype, what's going to happen when that company is responsible for an entire vehicle module?'
Raftery surveyed more than 150 of North America's biggest auto suppliers. Almost all of the firms surveyed - 94 percent - said that prototyping schedules could be shortened. And 88 percent said prototypes could be less expensive.
While the auto industry wants prototypes developed in less than two weeks, most of the industry takes more than twice that long, Raftery found. Half of the companies routinely wait more than one month to obtain a prototype once a part's design and specifications have been made final. And 25 percent said the process takes two to four weeks.
In effect, the survey is an admission of guilt by suppliers, since most major component makers produce many of their own prototypes in-house. Independent prototyping houses in the United States, Canada and Mexico handle part of the industry's needs, but not the majority.
Suppliers said they are relying increasingly on Asian and European prototyping services, possibly because the parts makers themselves are expanding overseas.
The survey also found that parts makers are using more lightweight metals like magnesium and titanium for auto parts currently under development. The use of those exotic metals suggests that automakers are looking for further reductions in the weight of upcoming autos. Automakers typically request that suppliers build prototypes from the same materials they will use to manufacture the part.