Time is money in the automotive industry, and in the straitened circumstances now being faced by many companies, saving money is vital. Lean manufacturing and just-in-time organization are well-established major elements of achieving efficiency, but now a European Union project team called Intelligent Logistics for Innovative Product Technologies (ILIPT) has stated that by 2015 an eco-friendly car could be ordered, built, and delivered in five days.
The ILIPT project, which ended in June, was led by ThyssenKrupp Automotive and initiated by the University of Bath School of Management Professor Andrew Graves. Among the 27 partners were BMW, Daimler AG, Siemens, Hella, and several universities and research organizations. It concluded that manufacturing cars to order quickly would benefit customers, save the European car industry billions of euros, and significantly reduce the carbon footprint of car production.
The "Five-Day Car" project proposed a complete reassessment of the way cars are constructed and how suppliers of components and parts throughout the supply chain communicate with each other, said Graves. He explained that while the body of a car is usually manufactured as a steel monocoque—with the body and external skin acting together to support loads—ILIPT proposed using an internal load-bearing frame that would be covered with "cosmetic" body panels. This could be done via a number of standard, pre-formed modules with greater commonality between vehicle variants (wagon, convertible, three-door, five-door) than would be possible via a monocoque approach.
The modularity of the virtual Five-Day Car (also called the ModCar) envisages the use of flexible polymer body panels, which would use in-mold film to provide a high-quality surface finish and obviate the necessity of paint shops. Materials for the car’s frame could include X-IP, a ThyssenKrupp steel now being developed. The research team also formulated on an interoperability model that would allow the individual software systems of a marque’s dealership, manufacturer, and OEM parts suppliers to work together, potentially to markedly improve supply-chain coordination.
Everything from a driver’s seat to an engine could be ordered and specifically manufactured to meet the customer’s needs, said Graves.
He claimed that research carried out in the U.S. indicated that 74% of consumers would rather specify and order a bespoke car and wait rather than buy one off the lot.
Build-to-order customers in Europe currently have to wait an average of 48 days for their European car to be delivered (63 days for a Japanese model built in Europe), according to the International Car Distribution Program. "Reducing this wait to five days—the same amount of time for an Internet purchase to be delivered—would be a massive leap forward for the automotive industry," Graves said.
With lean production, there would be significantly less waste, both in terms of material and management. Many car companies are losing money as the industry suffers from global overcapacity, said Graves. "One leading vehicle manufacturer estimated the value of its current inventory located at distribution parks around Europe at 10 billion. If this was reduced, the savings could be used to develop more model variants or lower prices. The interoperability model would also dramatically reduce the carbon footprint of car production because the system would locate the closest manufacturer for each part rather than shipping parts from one side of the world to the other."
Glenn Parry, a Senior Fellow and Project Coordinator at the University of Bath’s School of Management, added: "We have been working on this idea for a decade, and it is now clear that the five-day car could become a practical reality by 2015. The success of the system will rely upon a cohesive partnership between the engineers on the ground and the managers overseeing the production processes. All too often, innovation processes are hindered by the language barrier between engineers and managers. Our involvement with this project has led to us launching [a master of science degree] in Innovation and Technology Management, a course which combines strengths of both the Mechanical Engineering Department and School of Management, as a first step to removing this barrier in the future."
ILIPT’s findings are to be published as a book: "Build to Order—the Road to the Five-Day Car."