The automotive industry is on the brink of change with technology driving the shift, shaped by consumer demand, government regulations and environmental pressures. The rise of autonomous cars, electric vehicles and connected automobiles has forced suppliers to produce more high-tech, expensive parts. Businesses that supply these parts, along with the automakers themselves will need to find ways to keep costs down by improving their manufacturing and distribution operations. -Brian C. Neuwirth, VP of Sales and Marketing, UNEX Manufacturing
Henry Ford revolutionized manufacturing with his invention of the assembly line, cutting the amount of time to make a Model T from 12.5 hours to just 93 minutes. Today, the advent of innovative technologies in the automotive industry comes with new possibilities. Autonomous vehicles, connected cars and other developments promise to improve driver safety, increase efficiencies, reduce noise and create a cleaner environment, all in an effort to redefine transportation. With new products comes new processes, but these processes often aren’t efficient. The automotive industry, which defined the term “lean supply chain” needs to revisit this process to optimize efficiencies, eliminate waste and continually improve operations.
To focus on “leaning” the automotive supply chain, eliminating wastes from the entire operations, such as unnecessary movement and time, manufacturers should utilize one-piece flow in the manufacturing process. It is the movement of a single product through the manufacturing process and has a tremendous impact on lead times, production delays, inventory levels, and warehousing space requirements. One-piece flow redirects the workforce away from non-value-added activities, such as having to search for parts, which wastes time and instead focuses on the manufacturing process.
With one-piece flow, the work in progress is drastically reduced, which minimizes exposure to defects in the manufacturing process and allows for quicker reaction to fluctuating customer demands. One-piece flow creates a smoother production process, with steady workloads and shorter lead times.
Changing customer demands are transforming the industry as well, forcing manufacturers to incorporate flexibility and agility into their supply chains to meet the need for more customized products. Manufacturers must ensure their assembly lines are agile enough to quickly customize products, while keeping costs in check. Lineside storage systems in a U-shaped assembly cell help manufacturers speed assembly and production to bring products to consumers as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible. Maintaining a consistent flow of materials lineside requires a balance of the right parts placed at the right locations so they can easily and quickly be picked and placed within the assembly cells. By storing smaller components in separate containers, workers can quickly and easily grab parts to complete their work on the assembly line.
In the future, more cars will be connected to communicate with and sense each other to help reduce accidents and ease traffic. Disruptive technologies can enable even more connectivity between cars and an intelligent roadway infrastructure, including road signs and traffic signals. Within ten years, fully autonomous driving will be sophisticated enough for regular use. Drivers will be able to just sit back and relax, play games on their phone, communicate with co-workers or watch a movie while their car takes them to their next destination.
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