Innovative solutions for demanding market conditions
Optimizing the production process is critical to this automotive supplier's ability to remain competitive and profitable in challenging times
A market under pressure
Demands on automotive suppliers have been growing steadily every year for several years now. OEMs increasingly force suppliers to reduce prices, driving down profit margins for companies like Hella, which makes lighting, electronics and other systems for cars. With a turnover of 3.1 billion euros, Hella is among the top 100 biggest German industrial companies. Its customers include the spare parts business as well as leading automotive and system suppliers.
Other pressures on automotive suppliers include the need to invest heavily in new plants as the industry moves toward just-intime production. Also, overcapacity on the market forces stronger competition while shorter cycles at the OEMs make everyone work faster. Stephan Skoddow, director of corporate development, industrial engineering and quality management at Hella, explains, “From 1984 to 1992, a leading OEM had 0.9 new product launches per year. During 2002 to 2005 there were 2.5 new product launches a year. With the time between new car introductions getting shorter, production implementation must move along faster.”
Suppliers must be able to react quickly to changing customer requests, another factor that drives up development costs. “Fifteen years ago for one car model there was only one type of headlight,” says Dr. Andreas Brenke, director of industrial engineering methods at Hella. He notes, “Today 100 different headlights are common, which has an immense influence on development and production. The overall trend is moving away from mass production towards customer-specific production.” The products themselves are also getting more complicated as the industry moves from pure electronics toward mechatronics with software control. In addition to these market demands Hella also has very high internal quality requirements. “It is our aim to always ensure high quality levels and operative excellence even with shorter innovation cycle times,” says Skoddow.
Digital planning for optimized processes
To meet these challenges, Hella decided to move more of its production process planning to the virtual world by using digital planning and simulation software to simulate and optimize operations. The company’s first step in this direction was the implementation of the Tecnomatix® simulation software eM-Plant in 2001 at multiple Hella planning sites. Using this software, planners were able to quickly conceive and optimize production lines, enabling Hella to divide, automate and stabilize complex processes into individual sections. Today about 50 planners use this digital tool on a daily basis.
In 2004 Hella decided to expand the application of the software to production process planning, with the goal of shortening development times while at the same time improving planning quality. Hella chose the Tecnomatix eM-Planner process planning software, which enables companies to plan and manage based on common collaborative environments, parallel production processes for complete factories, production lines or individual work sequences. Implementation of this software began in mid-2004 at the company’s headlight division.
Continuity instead of separate processes
One of the main benefits of the digital planning and simulation software for Hella has been the standardization and optimization of processes. “Now that planners have access to libraries containing standards and best practices, the result is a more efficient planning process,” explains Dr. Brenke.
In a decentralized company such as Hella, many departments work on the planning process. Before implementation of the Tecnomatix software, they collaborated by means of email and Excel spreadsheets. “Individual steps were sometimes done twice and there was little integration,” says Dr. Brenke. “Since implementation of the Tecnomatix software, the know-how of all experts is brought together and the resulting solution can be carried over to production.” With the help of the software, Hella can close the gap between the PDM system of the design world and the ERP system of the production world. Dr. Brenke explains, “Through integration of the Tecnomatix software, a continuous data flow has been established from product development through process planning to production. With this, we have reached one of our main objectives.”
Better planning with same number of planners
The Tecnomatix solution also gives Hella planners more time. The result is higher planning quality and through this, higher production process quality – with the same number of planners. “This is an important step with respect to our objective of operational excellence,” says Skoddow. Hella can now keep up with the development rate and complexity of customer projects. Production startups are accelerated and planning safety has been greatly increased.
Hella plans to extend the use of the Tecnomatix process planning software to the lighting, electronics and commercial areas. Pilot projects are currently underway at those locations. Hella wants to push ahead with the rollout in the remaining European and international locations and has already taken the first step in this direction. After that, Hella aspires to make actual production data available for the planner through interfaces from industrial data acquisition systems or from the SAP system. In addition, Hella wants to bring process planning and product development closer together to ensure production and planning requirements are addressed early in the product conception process.