As automakers embrace changes on their assembly lines to transform themselves in an increasingly competitive industry, suppliers are adjusting their own manufacturing footprint in response.
Where parts makers used to produce one or two major parts for one or two models made at one assembly plant, they now must figure out how to make multiple parts for multiple models at one of their sites.
Johnson Controls Inc. is even making seats for more than one customer in many of its just-in-time plants, instead of focusing on a single carmaker.
When it came to JIT, it used to be one program, one customer, said Byron Foster, vice president and general manager of North American operations for JCI's interiors group. We've had to rethink how we think about [our] manufacturing footprint and how to come up with different solutions.
Seats were already a complicated final part to make, with each one requiring anywhere from 300-3,000 individual parts including structural plastics, plastic trim and urethane foam, Foster said during the auto industry's Management Briefing Seminars, held Aug. 2 in Traverse City.
At a typical JIT seating-assembly plant, JCI receives an order from its customer for a specific color and trim style of seat, and builds a complete set of seats ready for delivery within an hour.
Now, besides those previous manufacturing demands, automakers are adding complications on their own assembly lines.
Ford Motor Co., for instance, is producing a variety of subcompact and compact cars in a plant that used to make just large sport utility vehicles.
To trim waste in its production costs, BMW AG will have 82 percent of the parts for its future X3 crossover vehicle, made in Spartanburg, S.C., delivered just in time, with no more than a two-hour inventory of parts on hand at any given time, said Richard Morris, vice president of assembly at the plant. That requires greater coordination between BMW and its partners.
JCI is responding to changes in the industry like those at Ford and BMW through a combination of solutions, Foster said.
In some cases where the company must be on site, JCI is looking to supply other parts, such as injection molded interior trim, as well as seats to offset its capital expenditure.
Other plants may be designed as regional JIT plants that will deliver seats to multiple automakers, he said.
JCI also benefits from vertical integration, including production of many of its own parts through JCIM LLC, its Plymouth, Mich.-based injection molding unit.