This isn’t your father’s auto industry. Shops that will succeed serving auto customers must continue to identify ways to improve flexibility and efficiency.
Clinically speaking, an automobile is an engineered combination of subsystems applying the principles of hydraulics, kinematics, thermodynamics, fluid dynamics and a handful of other “-ics” to transport a person from point A to the point B of their choosing. Of course, a car is much more than that to many of us.
Perhaps you’ve named yours. A fourth of the Beach Boys’ songs are devoted to them (or so it seems, anyway). You might classify yourself as a Ford guy, a Chevy guy or a Mopar guy. It might even be that your son or daughter draws breath right now thanks in part to a split-bumper Camaro’s adequately comfortable back seat and a wah-wahing Peter Frampton 8-track.
Of course, not everyone has personalized their cars to such an extent. I’d bet, though, that there are at most two degrees of separation between any one person in this country from another who is directly tied to the automotive industry. Besides farming, there’s no other U.S. industry with which we have as much emotional skin in the game.
That’s what makes it so hard to see how the industry has seemingly unraveled. Too many friends and family members have lost their jobs as plants have shut down or suppliers have either gone out of business or have been consumed through consolidation.
The suppliers that have survived have become more efficient and flexible along the way, though. They had no choice, as one former buyer for an automaker commented to me. Today’s automakers look to partner with suppliers that are willing to put themselves on the line while continuing to implement quality and process improvements to meet cost targets, he explained. Those suppliers must be willing and capable not only of expanding, but, unfortunately, of being able to manage contraction with them as the automotive market ebbs. Suppliers also must work with automakers to find solutions to whatever challenges that pop up. That means both company management and employees must be willing to do whatever it takes to grow in their knowledge of products and manufacturing processes. Because some automakers do very little incoming parts inspection, they rely on their supply base to provide parts that meet or exceed quality standards 100 percent of the time.
If you machine parts for automotive customers, then I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. What I do want you to know, though, is that we’ve created the Automotive Machining Zone at MMS Online to assist you with your continuous improvement efforts. We hope this online resource, which contains articles and videos detailing techniques and technologies for effective machining of auto components, will spur ideas that will help maintain the momentum of innovation that has kept you on course.
Editor PickManufacturing News of Note: April 2017
Sandvik Coromant opens a special automotive engineering project and training site, Stratasys launches an additive manufacturing consulting service, and other industry news.