The latest round of cost-cutting pressure sweeping the auto industry is opening a window of opportunity for entrepreneur John Ausilio.
Ausilio and his partners, who own Ultimate Standard Tooling Inc. in Clinton Township, Mich., are getting a warm reception from automakers and metal-stamping suppliers for a patented piece of body assembly tooling that promises to cut months of time and thousands of dollars from setting up assembly lines.
Working with contract engineering firm MSX International Inc. of Auburn Hills, Mich., Ausilio is talking to potential buyers of a manufacturing license for its system, dubbed Modulink. Interested companies include top metal stamping suppliers Magna International Inc. and Budd Co. The system also has caught the interest of automakers such as General Motors.
Modulink promises to further simplify and speed up the design and operation of body shop assembly areas.
At the core of Modulink is a standardized blade - a cross-shaped piece of metal that is the mounting point for small metal blocks and pins. The blocks and pins are critical elements for ensuring that pieces of metal are properly lined up before being welded together.
Currently, the blade is a custom-designed piece of the body assembly tooling, which makes it expensive.
Ausilio and Ultimate Standard Tooling have designed a blade that includes three mounting points. Each of the blade's four legs is a different length. The proper mounting height can be obtained by using the proper combination of a mounting position and one of the blade's legs.
Combined with other standardized pieces of body assembly tooling, such as risers, spacers and blocks, Ausilio says it's possible to put together tool modules easily.
More than just the cost of the actual tooling pieces, Ausilio says, using standardized modules cuts the amount of time needed to make the tools ready for use. He estimates it would cost nearly $4,000 to design and build a basic assembly tool module using conventional methods, including a custom-designed blade. A typical assembly line could use up to 2,000 modules.
Using an off-the-shelf standardized assembly tool module would cost only $2,000, he estimates.
A key element of Ausilio's strategy is the ability of suppliers and automakers to design and order the tooling on the Internet, using data developed from computerized manufacturing design packages. 'With a design on the Web, we can get the order from anywhere and deliver it in just a few days,' Ausilio says.
Crusade against costs
Historically, body shop assembly tools - the metal risers, blocks, pins and clamps designed to hold metal pieces in the proper position so they can be welded together - have been custom designed for each vehicle line. The tools are used in the assembly of body components, such as doors, hoods, roofs, deck lids and body frames.
The tools have to be designed to ensure dimensional accuracy of the welded piece, and must be durable. Such systems cost more than $500 million.
When production of a vehicle model ended, or a significant restyling rolled out, the old tooling was scrapped.
More than 15 years ago, Ausilio began a crusade to change the auto industry's thinking about body assembly tools.
In the 1980s, as the co-owner of Citation Tooling in Roseville, Mich., Ausilio began approaching automakers and suppliers about standardizing parts of the body tooling, such as the risers.
$30 million and 4 months
The effort gained steam in the early 1990s, when Ausilio became chairman of the Auto-Steel Partnership's subcommittee on assembly tool standardization. By getting automakers to use standard tools, they could take up to $30 million out of the cost of a body tooling program and shave four months off the development time, Ausilio concluded.
A tooling study conducted by GM in 1995 showed that using standardized tools cut 36 percent of the cost compared with custom-built tools for just one body side of a mid-sized sedan.
Today, use of standardized components in body assembly tooling is widespread throughout the U.S. auto industry, Ausilio notes. But the systems won't be truly modular until the industry moves away from custom-built blades.
Ausilio also seeks growth potential for standardized tooling as the auto industry spreads out to new assembly sites in nations such as China and India. Part of the challenge there is to get other nations to adopt the U.S. tooling specifications.