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Shifting Automotive Dynamics Demand More Agile IT Solutions

Warren Smith, Automotive Industry Strategy Director, Infor

The automotive industry is a continually growing and shifting sector. The resurgence of production to nearly 16 million units per year—coupled with the rapid growth of technology within vehicles, continued pressure on margins, scarce access to capital and a shortage of skilled workers in the industry—is leading to major challenges throughout the supply chain. Warren Smith, InforAutomotive manufacturers or suppliers that are not highly attuned to these shifting dynamics are destined to be left behind.

In order to maintain this heightened state of readiness and responsiveness, organizations must rely more on the IT solutions to provide a competitive advantage or even just stay in the game. Emerging technology offers the necessary speed and insight to power qualitative change for the manufacturing process. Next-generation ERP systems with analytics and collaborative abilities make the difference between just adequate project management and moving to the forefront of innovation.

Agility in manufacturing means more than increasing the end-to-end throughput. Speed is only one factor—agility also relies on access to qualitative insights; the ability to adapt and respond to external requirements can be a litmus test for process modernization. Fortunately, advanced ERP technologies simplify these complex processes.

Automatic monitoring and alerts can assist with tracking key issues and abnormal events, both internally and within the supply chain. Real-time reporting tools can also help personnel throughout the plant to self-monitor their goals, key performance indicators and driving factors.

Collaboration tools are another way that ERP technology is keeping up with the changing demands. With resources scarce and organizations running with lean workforces, the social enterprise is a way to gain productivity through collaborative thinking. Manufacturers and suppliers can leverage solutions that allow real-time collaboration and sharing of data, such as diagrams and 3D images.

Seamless connectivity throughout the manufacturing supply chain allows auto manufacturers to maintain tighter version controls, manage ripple-effect changes, track critical escalations and capture relevant dialog in context to the product. Because dialog is captured in the ERP system in context of the component identification number or the vehicle model, the content can be referenced for future decisions, reporting and process improvements— or when legal or compliance issues arise.

Collaboration tools also play an important role in speeding product introductions while reducing risk due to poor cross-discipline knowledge. Greater cooperation between teams helps to speed the entire product lifecycle, meaning manufacturers can bring new concepts to market quickly and respond to shifts in consumer preference.

As consumer demand for specialized products increases, this collaborative ability becomes increasingly important. This built-to-order trend, including colors and aesthetics, to accessory features is finding its way into specialty vehicles and luxury autos more and more often.

A robust IT infrastructure is needed to control a business model with a large percentage of on-demand orders. Mass production also demands advanced ERP solutions as vehicle components increase in complexity and high-tech features, such as sensors, are embedded in axles and airbags. In order to keep pace with the heightened complexity of component versions, regulation compliance and certification requirements for these ever-changing parts, manufacturers must rely on technology solutions. Manual processes, spreadsheets, traditional reports and e-mail notices are just not reliable enough.

With collaboration tools, questions can be asked and answered immediately without costly delays and last-minute change orders, and shop-floor scheduling shifts can be deployed with minimal disruption to the overall process flow. Unlike simple phone calls, collaboration tools record the communication. It becomes part of the historical ERP data, documented in context of the shift, machine and product. Nothing is left to memory, guesswork—or chance.

This level of control—all the while maintaining flexibility and agility—is the magic combination that automotive manufacturers require today. It’s a balance of forces that may seem contradictory and difficult to achieve. Fortunately, today’s ERP technology offers the best of both worlds: control of processes and data flow—plus flexibility to adapt as new disruptive technologies and innovations emerge. This is what the future of manufacturing is all about, and why technology is at the core of the new manufacturing revolution.

This article was first published as a digital exclusive for the 2013 edition of the Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing Yearbook.   - See more at:

This article was first published in the 2013 edition of the Motorized Vehicle Manufacturing Yearbook.

Published Date : 11/6/2013

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