TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Small automotive suppliers that cannot afford expensive software for product development soon may be tapping into the computing power of the largest computer services companies.
Tier 1 suppliers such as Johnson Controls Inc. and Lear Corp. have the resources to have every product development software system that is required by their automaker customers, says John Waraniak, head of Tata Consultancy Services Automotive Centre of Excellence in Troy, Mich. But a tiny supplier -- for example, one that might supply a heavy-duty skid plate for an off-road SUV -- could benefit by whats known as grid computing, he says.
This plug and play approach to computing would help a small supplier to work with an automaker on a low-volume vehicle, he says.
Tata, one of Indias largest information technology services companies, provides this pay-as-you-go computing, as do other large firms such as IBM and Sun Microsystems Inc. Tata formed an alliance in May with DataSynapse Inc. to offer grid computing to its customers.
Waraniak was a speaker on yesterdays panel that discussed potential technologies for low-volume vehicle production. Tata is a member of a coalition led by the Center for Automotive Research, which is identifying ways to manufacture low-volume vehicles profitably in North America.
In grid computing, a supplier pays for computer processing and storage space provided through a service companys own computers and facilities. Customers access the computers through a private network or over the Internet and are charged according to how much computing time they use.
They would actually share into other systems, and we would provide the capability to kind of make them look bigger than they are, so to speak, Waraniak says. So by aligning with larger partners, through grid computing in this case, you can actually create that scalability and reduce that risk to an OEM or Tier 1 supplier.
Waraniak says automakers are looking to small suppliers for innovative products for low-volume niche vehicles, and in particular, at suppliers that are members of the Specialty Equipment Market Association. Automakers look to SEMA suppliers for the next big thing, he says.
But no one has really come up with a very unique or very profitable business model to integrate those suppliers, Waraniak says. Thats what were trying to help do with the consortium. Tatas role in that consortium is to help with the IT and business integration and certainly with engineering services.
Citing the example of a skid plate for a low-volume extreme SUV, Waraniak says an automaker might want an engineering analysis done on that skid plate to ensure that it does not have an adverse impact on the vehicles crashworthiness. A small skid-plate supplier that has been making an innovative product for the aftermarket likely would not have the computing power to do such an analysis, he says. But the supplier could use Tatas crash-simulation software, Waraniak says.
Brett Smith, assistant director of manufacturing, engineering and technology at the Center for Automotive Research, says Waraniak raises some interesting points regarding the use of information technology to foster low-volume vehicle production. But, he says, the consortium is not at a stage where it can offer any insights of value regarding the role of information technology in profitable low-volume vehicle production.
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