TOKYO - In the next two years, Mazda Motor Corp. plans to outsource five modules that integrate several functions into one unit.
At the same time, it will downplay modules created by preassembling components.
'We will optimize our assembly lines for modules,' said Fujio Iwaki, a manager in Mazda's R&D Business Strategy & Standardization Office.
Mazda said the next phase of linking computers to product development will shave another four months off vehicle development time, cutting the time from design freeze to launch to 14 months from 18 currently.
Mazda's computerization program also entails shifting from CAD-CAM software developed in-house to commercial software shared with Ford Motor Co. Ford owns 33.4 percent of Mazda.
Common software should make it easier for Ford and Mazda to work jointly on new products.
In a press briefing on its modular plans, Mazda said its business case studies favor functional-integration modules over assembly integration modules.
The former involve integrating the climate-control, audio and other components into a single center-panel module.
The latter involve a simpler integration of related components into a single module, such as a door module.
Mazda said its studies showed no savings from outsourcing assembly integration modules. In contrast, functional-integration modules yielded cost savings of between 10 percent and 15 percent, Mazda said.
Consequently, an unnamed new Mazda model due in 2002 will feature outsourced functional-integration modules for the front end, cockpit, center panel, door and fuel delivery. Currently, all those modules are produced in-house.
PLENTY OF POTENTIAL
In all, Mazda identified 19 potential modules on a vehicle.
The first 12 are part of the body: front end, rear end, liftgate, pickup box, cockpit and instrument panel, wiper and cowl, overhead, carpet, package tray, seat, door, and floor and tunnel console.
The others relate to the powertrain and chassis: rear suspension, wheel and tire, front suspension and powertrain, front exhaust, fuel delivery, tube bundle, and rolling chassis.
In contrast to the 19 modules, Mazda has 177 suppliers that have been designated as full-service suppliers. 'We can say we have too many FSS suppliers,' Iwaki said.
SOFTWARE CUTS TESTING
Separately, a Mazda plan to cut testing and prototype times sharply marks the next stage of its efforts to computerize product development.
'The highlight of phase three will be testing,' said Yoshimi Okada, senior manager of Mazda's Office of Management Innovation Projects and Information Systems Division.
In phase three of its Mazda Digital Innovation program, Mazda will slash its prototype period from 3.5 months to 1.5 months, and its testing period from 4.5 months to 2.5 months. Virtual testing will play a major role in the latter.
Mazda also is increasing sharply its efforts to get its suppliers in sync with its computerization drive.
Through phases one and two of program, 200 'sets' of relevant software have been installed at 120 suppliers, allowing those suppliers to link their product-development efforts with Mazda's, Okada said.
By the end of phase three, there will be 1,500 'sets' of software at 300 suppliers, he said.
Phase three also will bring Mazda's computers close in line with those of Ford.
Until now, Mazda has continued to use some software that it custom-developed on its own. By early 2002, however, that surface-modeling software will have been replaced by commercial software from I-DEAS, Okada said.
Said Okada: 'We've used Mazda-developed software for 30 years.
'But it's impossible for us to keep developing our own, so we're switching to commercial systems. This also allows us to share data with other companies.'