BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Factory flexibility is a new requirement for automakers and suppliers and will determine who survives, says auto industry productivity guru Ron Harbour.
Harbour told an audience at the Automotive News Manufacturing Conference on Tuesday that a factory's ability to juggle different products is what will keep it alive in an era when high-volume model runs are becoming the exception rather than the rule.
"The winners will be the plants that can handle variety," Harbour said.
He said inflexible plants are strapping automakers with higher costs because they remain underutilized during slow new-model ramp-ups or periods of slow sales. They tie up resources and cause inefficiency for suppliers who also are unable to switch capacity to other products.
Harbour, president of Harbour Consulting in Troy, Mich., publishes the annual Harbour Report, which ranks automakers' productivity.
The 2005 Harbour Report, which is due out this month, found that North America's vehicle makers were experiencing different levels of plant use last year, depending on how flexible they are as producers. Toyota Motor Manufacturing North America Inc. saw the highest level of utilization; the lowest level at any of its plants was 96 percent, according to Harbour.
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