The North American auto industry has seen half of its toolmakers shut down in the past few years, noted Bennie Fowler, group vice president of global quality for Ford Motor Co. Fowler and others spoke about the tooling sector on Aug. 11 at the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City.
``The key to it is not just low cost,'' said Frank Ewasyshyn, executive vice president of manufacturing for Auburn Hills, Mich.-based Chrysler LLC. ``[Tools] have got to perform, they've got to deliver. We'll go anywhere in the world we need to get that.''
Ewasyshyn, Fowler and other executives said the industry needs to improve its flexibility in creating future products, including adjusting engineering specifics that allow toolmakers to adapt and improve their molds, and speed development.
``The business is becoming more integrated and less about just the cutting of the steel,'' Ewasyshyn said.
The demand for low costs is leading the industry to better accept a collaborative approach that should aid carmakers and toolmakers. Steven Rowe, executive vice president and general manager of Richard Tool & Die Corp. of New Hudson, Mich., explained one scenario called ``functional build.''
Typically, mold and die makers receive a set of engineering specifics and build to those specifications, said Rowe, whose firm is part of the collaborative United Tooling Coalition group.
Once the tooling company has the order, though, it may recognize a way to produce the part that still meets tolerance requirements, but does it faster or for less money. In the past, however, the industry typically forced the company to build according to the written specifications, regardless of better options.
Functional build allows engineers and purchasing executives more flexibility to bring in improvements that were not part of the original design, Rowe said. That benefits everyone.
Some automakers, especially Japanese firms, have accepted functional build for years, but with business conditions tough now and getting tougher, it is gaining wider acceptance, he said.
Ford has learned from its supply base over time and is working to bring improvements into use, Fowler said.
Collaboration will help mold makers compete, but that does not mean that a collaborative approach will aid any one region.
``It's a global tooling model,'' said Jay Baron, president and chief executive officer of the consulting group Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor, Mich. ``The idea that everything is going to come from any one place, whether that's domestic or foreign, is over.''