CARDIFF, Wales - An industry research group is trying to figure out how to produce a 'three-day car.'
The International Car Distribution Program - which includes manufacturers, suppliers and dealers - wants to cut the gap between the initial stamping and the car's completion to three days.
Since European automakers currently maintain production cycles averaging 10 days, a three-day car would offer a dramatic improvement in productivity.
The International Car Distribution Program is sponsored by the U.K. Science Research Council. Its job is to find ways to improve supply-chain efficiency throughout the European auto industry.
The key, according to Cardiff University-based project manager Simon Elias, is logistics. Elias calculates that a typical 10-day manufacturing cycle includes only 16 hours of actual production time.
NOT EVERYONE BELIEVES
Speeding up the arrival of components and systems could reduce that 10-day cycle significantly. Other possibilities include the installation of items such as audio systems and seat trim at nearby supplier facilities.
'There is no fundamental reason why logistical improvements should not make automotive manufacturing as efficient as the computer industry,' said Elias.
However, not everyone believes in the three-day car theory. Rover Group logistics operations manager Gary Nutter points out there are about 1.9 million permutations possible within the specification of the new Rover 75.
Rover can complete a car within 10 days of the initial stamping. Nutter argues that the logistical exercise is a balance between what is theoretically possible and what the average customer expects.
The three-day car is feasible, Nutter agrees, but it would require the automaker to maintain a large inventory of parts at the assembly plant. That flies in the face of conventional lean production practices.
'The three-day car is attainable, but it could conflict with moves toward international sourcing,' Nutter said.
Rover originally planned to overhaul parts deliveries to its Oxford, England, assembly plant in 1994, when the Rover 75 initially was planned. At that time, five logistics centers and a number of parts warehouses served the plant for the old Rover 600 and 800 models.
Trucks delivered components to the warehouses, where parts were stored and reloaded for delivery to the assembly lines. It was an inefficient operation.
'One of the main findings which came out of our discussions was the need to put all our logistics activities under one roof,' said Nutter. 'Another finding was that we needed to move them as close as possible to the manufacturing plant.'
The Rover 75 is served by a single integrated logistics center. The center dispatches parts to the assembly line via a fleet of small trucks towed though a tunnel and delivered to a single platform. Once called up, an item will be delivered to the line within an hour, and in sequence.