Looking down the tiers for change

August 12, 2008
By: Tim Heston

This week the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) holds its Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Mich. After reading event news trickling onto the Internet, news that includes automotive execs opining away about industry troubles, I"ve come to a conclusion.

They should listen to Eric Borman.

I met this shop manager at ALAW 2008 earlier this year. Launched in the 1990s as the Automotive Laser Applications Workshop, the event has since broadened its scope to include laser applications in contract manufacturing and other OEM sectors like aerospace and off-road equipment.

"I"m as bullish as ever for metal fabricators in automotive, Borman told me. Automotive is going to smaller and smaller volumes, and the best way to get that is with the contract manufacturer.

I covered Borman"s business, Ferndale, Mich.-based Progressive Metal Manufacturing Co., in last month"s FABRICATOR. The shop manger has transformed the company from a traditional fab shop to one that"s lean, agile, and ready for anything. The company launches more than 1,000 parts a year. That means that, with a moment"s notice, the floor operation can stop on a dime and head in another direction.

After reading news from CAR"s Management Briefing Seminars this week, it seems many think the automotive industry as a whole has to do the same.

In an Associated Press report, Frank Ewasyshyn, Chrysler"s executive vice president of manufacturing, said the industry must learn to take things apart & put them back together again, [and] find a new way to do it.

According to an Ann Arbor Business Review article, CAR"s CEO Jay Baron said we need to focus on making money with lower volumes.

In remarks sent to the Wall Street Journal last month, Tim Leuliette, the new head at Rochester Hills, Mich.-based Dura Automotive Systems, said industry leaders had warning. We knew gasoline prices would rise. We watched as the emerging markets demanded more and more of the oil. As a nation, we did nothing. As an industry, we pretended that cheap oil would last forever.

Another report from the Ann Arbor Business Review pointed to the fact that executives are pushing for some drastic changes. I believe we need a cultural revolution within our industry, and we need to fire the first shot today, Phil Martens, president of light vehicle systems for Troy, Mich.-based ArvinMeritor, said yesterday at the CAR event.

What should that cultural revolution entail? Perhaps automakers should look down the tiers to shops like the aptly named Progressive Metal Manufacturing Co. and others that are tooled to launch new projects, and change direction on a dime.

Tim Heston

Tim Heston

Senior Editor
FMA Communications Inc.
2135 Point Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
Phone: 815-381-1314

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