Are complete modules in auto suppliers' future?

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: December 27, 2013 9:40 am ET
Updated: January 2, 2014 3:03 pm ET

Image By: Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. Magna makes complete tailgates for the Nissan Rogue, which is assembled in Smyrna, Tenn.

Related to this story

Topics Automotive, Injection Molding
Companies & Associations Magna International Inc., Nissan Motor Corp.

The booming North American auto industry is generating a lot of activity for both automakers and suppliers, but an official for one company said the rapid regrowth of the industry from the depths of recession opens the potential for suppliers to make more complete modules.

Auto suppliers have sought the opportunity to make complete systems – such as front-end modules, entire cockpits and roof systems – for years in North America, but the automakers have been hesitant to hand over major parts of the car.

In 2013, however, Magna International Inc. began producing complete tailgates for Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.'s Rogue crossover, made in Smyrna, Tenn.

The all olefin liftgate, with a polypropylene inner and thermoplastic polyolefin outer panel produced together with lighting, electronics and an integrated spoiler, took the top prize at this year's Society of Plastics Engineers' Automotive Innovations competition for the year.

Magna had been in talks with Nissan about making a tailgate for more than 10 years, said Tom Pilette vice president of product and process development for Magna, an Aurora, Ontario-based company. It finally won the business by offering not only a weight savings over the steel system, but because moving the module to Magna could help free up steel stamping capacity within Nissan.

Because Nissan would not longer need that stamping production for the tailgate in-house, it could dedicate that capacity to other needed parts. At the same time, Pilette said, Nissan could improve efficiency on the assembly line because it no longer needed the space or the people to do full assembly on the Rogue liftgate as it went down the line. Instead, it attaches a complete gate delivered by Magna, which requires fewer people.

"There are several hundred operations on an assembly line, and if you can reduce the number of inches needed between cars, that's big," Pilette said.

Reducing the space and personnel on the line means getting more cars per hour down that line, which leads to a higher production capacity with the same number of workers and assembly stations.

"It might only be 10,000 or 15,000 more vehicles (per year), but what if 15,000 vehicles could be the break-even point on your investment," he said.

Nissan spokesman Justin Saia agreed that there were some assembly line efficiencies in Smyrna with the new tailgate, but noted that the module is only part of the improvements on site there to improve production.

Saia noted that the Smyrna plant is capable of producing six different products, while the assembly plant in Canton, Miss., can turn out nine different vehicles. That combination allows it to faster respond to changes in demand.

New assembly plants like Nissan's in both Tennessee and Mississippi – along with those of its competitors – make it possible to produce more complex modules like the tailgate, Pilette said.

Suppliers are interested in pursuing complete systems because they can add more value on those parts, and they can take part in development far earlier.

"We're involved on a modular level a year before we would be on a component level," he said.

For the Rogue, early involvement also leads to an improved product. Magna engineers were able to design a system that would allow for a tight fit and finish with the steel panels – even with the thermal expansion issues that are typically a problem for thermoplastics. The Rogue's liftgate expands and contracts out, so rather than contracting and leaving a wider gap between body panels, the gate expands outward, very slightly increasing the wheelbase of the car.

Producing more modules off-site in supplier facilities increases the complexity for suppliers, but Pilette noted that suppliers including Magna have been making front-end modules, instrument panels, doors panels and other systems that require a variety of parts for years. Something like a tailgate just extends the logistics to another part.

"For the most part, almost all of the hurdles to (modular production) have been handled," he said.

And the North American auto market simply must adapt production to keep up with the growing demand. During the recession, Pilette said, automakers shut down unneeded facilities and cut back production.

The North American auto industry is expected to top production levels of 15 million vehicles for 2013, recovering from less than 10 million just four years ago.

"You think about how much net capacity was taken out in 2009, and how we're back at some of those same numbers in terms of vehicle production now. We're getting the same number of vehicles out, but with more efficient capacity."


Comments

Are complete modules in auto suppliers' future?

By Rhoda Miel
News Editor

Published: December 27, 2013 9:40 am ET
Updated: January 2, 2014 3:03 pm ET

Post Your Comments


Back to story


More stories

Image

Comar merging with Convergence Packaging

October 21, 2014 5:07 pm ET

A couple of plastic packaging companies owned by private investment firm Graham Partners are merging into a single entity.    More

Image

BASF targets coffee and automotive connoisseurs with new resin grades

October 21, 2014 2:07 pm ET

BASF SE is using polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), which is normally used to manufacture high-end electronics, in a food consumer packaging product.    More

Image

Plastic particles showing up in Germany's Lake Constance

October 21, 2014 1:16 pm ET

While Fakuma 2014 exhibitors and visitors occupied themselves with topics like molding of micro-sized plastic parts during the show, the presence of...    More

Image

Report: Suspected former Nazi with plastic connection collecting Social Security

October 20, 2014 3:52 pm ET

AKRON, OHIO — A one-time plastics executive in Akron is among dozens of suspected former Nazis who have been collecting U.S. Social Security...    More

Ford shrinks its supplier 'watch list'

October 20, 2014 1:35 pm ET

Ford purchasing chief Hau Thai-Tang says suppliers are starting to invest in additional production capacity because they think the recovery is real.    More

Market Reports

Plastics Recycling Trends in North America

This report is a review and analysis of the North American Plastics Recycling Industry, including key trends and statistics based on 2013 performance. We examine market environment factors, regulatory issues, industry challenges, key drivers and emerging trends in post-consumer and post-industrial recycling.

Learn more

Plastics in Mexico - State of the Industry Report

This report analyzes the $20 million dollar plastics industry in Mexico including sales of machinery & equipment, resins and finished products.

Our analysts provide insight on business trends, foreign investment, top end markets and plastics processing activity. The report also provides important data on exports, production, employment and value of plastics products manufactured.

Learn more

Plastics Caps & Closures Market Report

The annual recap of top trends and future outlook for the plastics caps & closures market features interviews with industry thought leaders and Bill Wood’s economic forecast of trends in growing end markets. You will also gain insight on trends in caps design, materials, machinery, molds & tooling and reviews of mergers & acquisitions.

Learn more

Upcoming Plastics News Events

January 14, 2015 - January 14, 2015Plastics in Automotive

February 4, 2015 - February 6, 2015Plastics News Executive Forum 2015

June 2, 2015 - June 3, 2015Plastics Financial Summit - Chicago 2015

September 16, 2015 - September 18, 2015Plastics Caps & Closures - September 2015

More Events