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Automakers take a closer look at tooling

By: Rhoda Miel

August 7, 2013

TRAVERSE CITY, MICH. — With the North American auto industry on a rapid growth curve, automakers are taking a new look at tooling and how they buy and source tools and dies.

"We're putting much more effort into it because the tooling bill for a new launch program is substantial," said Birgit Behrendt, vice president, global programs and purchasing operations for Ford Motor Co., during the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City Aug. 6.

The North American auto industry is in the midst of one of its biggest periods for new vehicles launches of the past decade, with even more new and updated vehicles set to go into production during the next two years.

Each of those new and refreshed cars and trucks will need millions of dollars worth of tooling for both plastic and metal parts, and automakers want to look closely at how they're investing that money and if it should be spent differently.

"We're looking at total enterprise cost to get those answers," said Grace Lieblein, vice president of global purchasing and supply chain for Detroit-based General Motors Co. "What is the whole value chain, and what is the right answer for that specific part and that particular program."

GM and Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford along with Chrysler, Honda, Nissan, Toyota and Volkswagen, more than two dozen toolmakers and suppliers are taking part in a vendor tooling study by Harbour Results Inc. looking at how the auto industry buys and develops its tools.

Harbour Results will complete the report in October, but early trends point to two very different styles toward tooling in the North American industry, said Laurie Harbour, president and CEO of Harbour Results.

In one system, tools are sourced by a team represented by both an engineer and a purchasing manager who are jointly working on the parts for one specific vehicle. The success of a particular sedan, for instance, relies on both the engineer and the purchasing executive jointly finding the right company that can produce a tool that meets both production and cost targets.

Harbour said that method tends to produce a more efficient overall tool and final part, since the same companies often are involved in the entire development process, from initial prototypes to final production.

"[Tooling decisions] are engrained in the program, rather than being an independent decision made by another group," she said.

The other system favors purchasing decisions made by tooling teams, which may oversee complete vehicle platforms rather than individual models. While those teams may have some input from engineering, they typically have a greater disconnect between product development teams and the companies selected for final production.

There is no way to know what automakers may do with the survey information, since tooling purchases have been fairly ingrained at the different companies, but the fact that they are taking a hard look at tooling is a sign that they are taking it seriously, Harbour said.

Ford's Behrendt said the automaker wants its suppliers to help it take a broad look at tooling.

"Some of the decisions we were making years ago was all about where we were doing things in terms of the cost and cost shifting," she said. "Today I think we're looking at this a little bit more balanced in terms of the initial cost.

"When we talk about these kinds of investments, that's something we really have to look at to be sure we have the most efficient tool lineup that is required to deliver a product."