There's a new team of consultants in the Motor City - and they don't charge an hourly fee.
Six engineering students from Oakland University in Auburn Hills, Mich., are testing their automotive manufacturing know-how in the real world. Their work is spearheaded by 39-year-old Patrick Dessert. An 11-year General Motors veteran and former Big 3 consultant, Dessert is director of the university's Production Development and Manufacturing Center.
In the last two years, engineering students under his guidance have researched suppliers' production processes and created a mock manufacturing company, which has an 8-square-foot shop floor on the seventh floor of the university's engineering building.
Now that the center's initial research is complete, Dessert's team is eager to apply its expertise to help suppliers streamline their businesses and increase their return on net assets.
To sign on, suppliers need only to become a partner of the center, which costs about $25,000 per year. Typical consultants' fees, Dessert said, are $120 to $350 an hour.
In his experience as a consultant, Dessert said engineers often were unable to explain why they were using a new manufacturing process or technology.
'A lot of times people haven't thought through the process and what their people are capable of doing and the technology they're implementing,' Dessert said.
In some cases, the cost of elaborate manufacturing software programs was dwarfed by the price suppliers had to pay to train their employees on how to properly use the technology and configure it for different applications. This could cost three times as much as the software.
The university tested about 30 different plant floor management software packages that would help suppliers streamline processes.
Packages included delivering parts just in time and in sequence and eliminating inventory.
Selected were shop floor management software from Integrated Business Systems and Services of Columbia, S.C., and software from BRAIN North America of Grand Rapids, Mich., that integrates manufacturing with other departments, such as purchasing and finance.
Just the right size
The students' manufacturing research is taking its first real-world test with LDM Technologies Inc., a trim supplier in Auburn Hills, Mich., about two miles from the university's campus.
For LDM, the students' approach was a welcome change from consultants' pitches.
'When companies come to you and say we have a solution, and it worked at General Motors, and all you have to do is take some of these things and scale them down, it is a monster,' said William Kessler, LDM vice president.
The students' approach was attractive because they offered to develop a system specifically for LDM's needs, he added.
Oakland University students have spent nearly four weeks, including weekends, studying and analyzing the manufacturing processes and culture at LDM's Fowlerville, Mich., plant, which makes bumper fascias for Ford Motor Co.
The team's goal is to make it easier for the LDM plant to keep track of information, such as the number of machines down, materials cost, amount of scrap and sequencing. Their focus is not to streamline just one machine, but to create manufacturing practices catered for each facility's people and processes.
The students are expected to present LDM with a recommendation on improving these processes in mid-April. At that point, LDM will decide if the ideas will be implemented.
The university's other Tier 1 partners, including Lear Corp. of Southfield, Mich., and Magna Corp. of Aurora, Ontario, also have had discussions with Dessert about inviting his students to work on projects, but no plans have been set.