Bold supply chain changes don't just happen.
The chiefs at two New American Manufacturers are acutely aware of this as they prepare for enormous expansions of their U.S. operations. Both executives have embraced a similar plan to make sure their suppliers are ready when new production volumes start moving.
At Mercedes-Benz U.S. International Inc. in Vance, Ala., company engineers are setting up shop inside supplier plants to monitor their preparations.
At Nissan North America Inc. in Smyrna, Tenn., teams of Nissan engineers and associates have been working on-site with suppliers for the past year to make sure a major expansion - new products in Smyrna and a new assembly plant in Canton, Miss. - goes without a hitch.
Both companies are attempting new manufacturing methods with their expansions, and both will rely on several new suppliers to make it happen.
Emil Hassan, Nissan's senior vice president for North American manufacturing, purchasing, quality and logistics, orchestrated Nissan's plan to prepare for the opening of its new $1.5 billion Canton truck and car assembly plant this month.
Hassan formed 65 supplier quality support teams from Nissan's work force to pay constant attention to suppliers that were expanding and building parts factories. The teams have focused on how suppliers are meeting their schedules, the results of production trials, work force training issues and quality programs and minor concerns such as parts packaging and transportation.
"We've got to support them and make sure they're ready to launch these vehicles," Hassan says.
At Mercedes-Benz, CEO Bill Taylor says his engineers will "parachute in" to suppliers as they expand to support a more than doubling of Mercedes' Alabama production. Mercedes personnel will be assigned to work on-site at specific suppliers.
"We have to go there and observe and participate," Taylor says. "By the time a problem would show up here, it's too late. You have to have a presence where the process starts."