Today, the trends in the automotive industry are causing a fundamental change in vehicle technologies, which require a higher degree of innovation from automakers and suppliers. Adopting these new technologies leads to more interaction across vehicle systems and components, resulting in innovative content while maintaining transparency in design.
Such pioneering knowledge exploitation was recently explored at Aurangabad with Siemens PLM Software, in association with CMIA—Chamber of Marathwada Industries & Agriculture and MAC—Marathwada Auto Cluster. Besides having a record purchase order of Mercedes Benz in the past, Aurangabad has a growing automotive base and currently is a host to some major automotive component suppliers in the country. As such, a panel discussion discussing an integrated automotive solution for greater innovation, integrated manufacturing, and improved program planning and execution was thoroughly beneficial.
The conference was inaugurated by Gurpreet Singh Bagga, President, CMIA, who addressed the challenges faced in the industry. Bagga opined that companies should be competitive and should also percolate the need for continuous growth in technology. This was followed with a guest address by Bharat Gangakhedkar, CEO, Martahwada Auto Cluster.
There is an indispensable requisite today for developing innovations, which drives towards the growth of the overall industry. Emplacing this, Mohini Kelkar, Vice Chairperson, CII Marathwada & Managing Director, GrindMaster Machines, addressed the session on the need to rethink the fragments of innovation. “There is a global competition in every industry, more so in the automotive industry. The major challenge is to bring down the cost year-on-year. Also, sudden changes in product design & features by OEM call for lots of alterations in the components. With this, the manufacturing systems need to have flexible manufacturing supported by digital technologies,” she shared.
Addressing facets of automotive manufacturing
The highlight of the event was a panel discussion organised by EM on ‘Roadmap for Automotive Suppliers: Faster Innovation, Integrated Manufacturing, and Program Planning & Execution’. The panelists of the discussion were Ravindra Kharul, Chief Technology Officer, Endurance Technologies; Kedar Deshpande, Managing Director, Umasons Auto Compo; Shrikrishna Joshi, Chairman & Managing Director, Akash Precision; Jawed Ahmed, Managing Director, Perkins and Sachin Sanghi, Digital Manufacturing – Portfolio Development, Siemens PLM Software. The discussion was moderated by Shekhar Jitkar, Chief Editor, EM.
The discussion was themed around the challenges and trends witnessed in the automotive sector of the Indian manufacturing landscape, focusing on the volatile and uncertain facets of the industry. At the backdrop of increasing pressures to improve operational performance, Jitkar highlighted the need to maintain cost while meeting escalating OEM requirements. He asked the panelists on the approach to be adopted. Answering this, Kharul pointed out the basic hygiene factors that lead to accurate quality, cost and delivery. He also mentioned the importance of meeting safety standards, along with upgrading the management approaches followed in the industry. He further stated that a supplier needs to start looking at providing solutions upfront, even before OEMs ask.
Adding more to the challenges witnessed, Deshpande averred that firstly, there is a continuous changing demand faced by customers—an engineering change, quantity change or development change. “This needs to be addressed with continuous adaptation of technology. Next, the product lifecycle for the OEMs often gets reduced. This calls for the part supplier to also anticipate and manage that cycle of the product,” he said.
Moving ahead, representing the OEM’s perspective was Ahmed who noted that to survive the tough global market, there is a need to have the entire gamut of assets, people and also, a mindset of delivering the best quality of service to the OEMs. “For this, they will require everything – deep pockets, great technology, skilled employees, ability to integrate with the supplier, ability to design their own products, which are low cost but great in design,” he added. Agreeing on the same, Sanghi further shared that OEMs are looking for ways to reduce the number of suppliers they have to deal with, but at the same time, expect suppliers to take over the most difficult tasks.
Flexible, faster & innovative manufacturing process
After sharing views on the challenges, Jitkar proceeded to take a look at the strategies and steps to improve on the productivity of design, product development processes as well as manufacturing processes, so that it can operate faster and deliver better with more consistent product quality, while minimising the lifecycle cost and being flexible enough to accommodate changes. In this regard, Joshi recommended the need for a concrete solution for each and every process, followed by the next development ideology. “The total process has to be synchronised,” he explained.
Addressing on solutions, Kharul stressed on the importance of design and said that it is an important function, which cannot be left only to designers. “Thus, inputs should be taken at an earlier stage from all stakeholders from the concept stage itself, which include tier-2 and tier-3 suppliers or people from operations, production, quality, etc. Most of the OEMs have already hired into this aspect of CFT-based NPD teams whereas the suppliers are yet to gear up for that.” He further highlighted the importance of a well-structured NPD process, which again in OEMs, is already in operation for almost a decade now, but is not well-structured at the suppliers’ end. Speaking on product development, Kharul stated that the proactive approach for the design is quite important. “We need to look at what the product is supposed to do for the end-user. This can enhance the design at an early stage. Also, suppliers need to get on to innovation at the earlier stage and continuously improve on cost, weight and performance,” he added.
In terms of adopting strategies to accommodate sudden changes from OEMs, Deshpande vouched for a modular or parametric tooling, standardised for each product line, which addresses challenges in manufacturing. He further stated that genetic intelligence analysis allows companies to place key staff into the system so as to restructure their organisation accurately. “Developing the ability to predict what will happen next is also very important for suppliers,” he said.
Anticipating changes in the requirements as well as to improve the existing processes, Sanghi recommended, “Today, we need to go beyond cross-functional collaboration and focus on cross-disciplinary collaboration. You cannot afford to have any development environment with only one cross-functional team in manufacturing or purchasing. We need to have many cross-disciplinary teams. Unless I can predict when I will start shipping out ‘X’ number of parts and start invoicing them for that, I will need to look at that as a metric. If I don’t measure that, I will be risking not growing as fast as the others.”
Maximising collaborations with OEMs
Taking the discussion forward, Jitkar claimed that collaborations with OEMs enhance productivity, improve effectiveness of the processes & products, as well as ensure flexibility. On being asked about such collaborations, Ahmed said, “The earlier you partner with your suppliers, the better are the chances of you beating the market and the cycle time. Suppliers need to upgrade their manpower, skills and most importantly, technology so that they can work along with the OEM at a very early stage and participate in the entire structured methodology of improvement.” On similar lines, Joshi emphasised three points—time bonding, cost and development period. He further referred, “When these three points are fulfilled, then we may go by the process in the next stage. The supplier needs to be ahead of two stages of others so that they can do fast development and quick changes.”
Stressing on the need of such collaborations, Kharul opined that suppliers need to move from bill-to-print manufacturers to development partners. “There are structured approaches available which are critical to quality parameters – following this structured approach will allow you to give better than what the customer really wants. Suppliers need to go from giving what the customer requires to meeting their delight,” he said. Agreeing to this, Deshpande pointed out an alternative approach, wherein he stated, “We have to take the initiative and meet customers with certain alternative processes or materials to study the manufacturability of the product, which the designer is designing at an early stage. Consistent effort in innovation is also necessary to continuously improve the processes so that customers will come back to discuss new products.”
Ensuring data security
While innovation is a crucial aspect for the growth of the automotive sector, it also implies having highly confidential data, which needs to be secured. Technology and software tools play a key role in securing this data and this enhances further collaboration between partners. Highlighting this critical issue, Sanghi elaborated, “Everyone wants to safeguard their IP. However, they have to come together and work. Thus, they are using technology solutions, which allow people to collaborate in an environment where only the portion of data that you are supposed to see, you will be able to see, and the data that you are supposed to change, you will be able to change. Thus, technology is the way to ensure that data security is maintained and the collaboration is also on.”
Reiterating the same, Kharul mentioned that a proper use of software tools will ensure that data security is well-maintained. “Automotive suppliers need to gear themselves and take care of their intellectual property. Just like OEMs, suppliers also need to patent their innovative ideas before giving it out to customers. This is another way to protect data security,” he stated.
Anticipating impact of changes on OEMs
The next part of the discussion focused on the impact that changes in product development process at the supplier end have on OEMs. When Jitkar asked about the impact of such changes, Deshpande said that discussing and sharing the details of the changes with the customer helps gain the confidence of the OEM with the supplier.
Bringing an OEM perspective, Ahmed opined that every part should go through a PPAP methodology. There needs to be a change notification, approval process and a risk assessment. Kharul further emphasised, “Last-minute changes do come. So, how we manage the change is important. We need to follow the engineering change management system without any shortcuts.”
Roadmap for collaboration
Concluding on the roadmap to ensure collaboration between suppliers and OEMs so as to make systems and development processes flexible and affordable, while ensuring global quality, Joshi summarised, “The faster the OEMs send the drawings, the component suppliers will be able to read, develop and implement it properly.” Adopting another view, Ahmed focused on maximising collaboration between OEMs and suppliers. Kharul further emphasised on co-creation and detailed, “Development projects should be in line with the requirements of customers. It’s important to jointly work towards solving critical problems and co-creation is the way to go for it.”
Concluding the panel was Sanghi, who shared, “We need to make strategic investments—first, we have to make an investment in competencies of people. The second investment should be made in tools and technologies to create an enterprise IT backbone. Being competent and adopting enterprise architecture and enterprise IT backbone will let one to adopt standardised processes.”
Creating further awareness on the emerging trends in the digital manufacturing landscape, Sanghi addressed a special session on the role of digital factories in the digital enterprise. He touched upon the current scenario with the sourcing strategy of the Indian OEMs and the role of digitalisation in the mobility business. “The need-of-the-hour is moving towards digitisation in every sphere of life. With evolution in technology, what is changing with digitisation is that the cost is coming down,” he said.
Jitkar summarised the discussion, for automotive suppliers to realise more profitable innovation, they need to consider opportunities to optimise designs and improve validation earlier in the development process; enable cross-discipline development in a unified environment; quickly adapt to a changing global structure; and improve visibility into programme execution and risk management. This new, more efficient approach is called ‘Executing Program Innovation’ because it enables automotive suppliers to achieve greater success in this dynamically changing industry.