Advancing the Automotive Industry by Collaboration and Modularity

From Build-to-Order to Customize-to-Order

Advancing the Automotive Industry by Collaboration and ModularityThe European automotive industry is facing enormous challenges as a result of the financial crisis, high prices for oil and steel, intensified emission controls and the trend towards electric vehicles. To tackle these challenges, traditional procedures have to be questioned and novel approaches have to be established.

The European Commission-funded project AC/DC supports this transition towards a sustainable automotive economy by means of knowledgebased products and processes introducing innovative approaches.

Smart modular products

The main smart modular product developed in AC/DC is a highly innovative rear axle module enhancing existing safety functions and increasing driving comfort options. The rear axle is equipped with mechatronic actuators, an active stabilizer, a torque vectoring rear axle differential, and semiactive magneto-rheological (MR-) dampers. To handle the increase in variability and flexibility, all the connections of the rear axle have be consolidated in two central connectors, a power and a signal connector. Another developed component is a modular high frequency (HF) sensor for different crash scenarios, as well as for vehicle dynamics control. Due to advanced software, which has also been developed, the HF sensor can be adapted to different vehicle chassis types and also support different add-on functions. The mechatronic actuators are presented and validated on test-benches, which are also used to validate the interoperability of the components inside the rear axle module and within the car. Due to the central connectors and the advanced software, the smart modular products can be featured very late in the production and thus comply well with the Customize-to-Order (CtO) approach of the project.

Collaborative production network management-Dynamic Supply Loops

Although the need for collaborative planning in supply chains is generally recognized, there is still a gap between theoretical proposals and practical requirements. The proposed principles of the Dynamic Supply Loops (DSL) can be treated as a viable compromise for more optimized intercompany respectively inter-project planning: it offers scope for other partners’ options, while keeping communication and decision complexity at bay through a relatively simple information exchange and decision protocol confined to immediate partners in a chain. DSL is open to embed standard planning techniques and novel incentive schemes alike. Simulation results on a multi-echelon model showed that DSL outperforms traditional upstream planning and facilitates channel coordination.

The methods developed by AC/DC ensure better collaboration between the partners in the supply network and enhance speed and flexibility as well as process reliability in the whole supply grid.

Many of the developed methods have been proven in practical best-case implementation showing applications at each level of the supply chain management, like strategic and tactical planning, collaborative forecasting, event handling and simple automatic information messaging.

Flexible production system

The automotive industry is continuously increasing the requirements of flexibility in production systems, both at the car manufacturers as well as at the suppliers. Other than the flexibility in production volumes, product variety is increasing from year to year.

The original objective of AC/DC was to make a production system capable of managing +/- 25% capacity fluctuation per day, without increasing costs. A number of tools has been implemented to achieve this goal. Lean production management has been considered as one important mile stone. The Lean philosophy aims at shortening the order-to-delivery lead time by product standardization and late customization of components, aspects developed as smart modular products in the AC/DC project.

Value stream mapping, calculation of the total cost of ownership (TCO), ABC/XYZ analysis of the product range to optimize the inventory and Single Minute Exchange of Die to reduce waste in the process, are attributes for flexible production systems. Benefit balancing has been considered as an important motivator for all supply chain actors to contribute to the common benefits.

Strategic objectives achieved using AC/DC principles in the supply network:

  • Lead time reduction up to 85%
  • Inventory reduction up to 50%
  • Operator reduction up to 8%
  • Floor space reduction up to 6%
  • Defect reduction up to 50%
  • Flexibility per day +/- 25%

All results could be achieved without increasing the TCO.

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