Cost-cutting starts on the drawing board

  • 17-Aug-2009 04:43 EDT

A Mercedes is tested for squeaks and rattles at the MIRA proving ground, where a cobbled street, a common surface in old European towns, is re-created.

Insufficient development during engineering phases can lead to recalls and a drop in consumer confidence, lessons well-known by current automakers. To reduce gremlins before production, much effort must be put into testing, pre-production manufacturing, and systems engineering. But in the current competitive market, these are costs that could be trimmed.

MIRA, an independent provider of product engineering, testing, consultancy, and research, offers a myriad of programs to save OEMs time and money. The “fresh eyes” approach allows teams of MIRA engineers to tear down a vehicle and look for ways to integrate, delete, and combine parts, from an unbiased perspective. MIRA reports that all clients, having seen the results on one vehicle, have committed to further work.

Testing facilities are expensive to maintain and operate. As all-new platforms requiring intensive real-world testing become fewer, having available testing facilities, such as MIRA, without the expense of ownership can be appealing. Furthermore, integrated physical and CAE reduces the number of tests, saving money and reducing time to market. As consumers demand ever-increasing levels of durability and quality in a vehicle, and governments demand improved efficiency, the barrage of tests needed becomes lengthy.  From thermal management and electrical and electromagnetic compatibility to NVH and durability tests, MIRA offers facilities to free up OEMs and allow them to focus on other important design and production aspects.

Suppliers need to develop validated parts in a short time, and MIRA can assist with integration and product testing to reduce penalties for late delivery or product failure.

The pros and cons of outsourcing are hotly debated in the auto industry, although support during the engineering, pre-production, and prototype stages can speed up the build process and allow the vehicle to go to market before a competitor's. Livernois Vehicle Development can assist with or entirely provide systems engineering, including benchmarking and target setting, design, analysis, testing, and validation. 

The company can also assist with NVH testing and resolution: on-road and lab testing, cost optimization, and investigations into problem areas before the vehicle enters production. Engineering design and development, including manufacturing, crash safety, production validation, and global 8-D and Six Sigma problem resolutions, are all necessary before production. While not necessarily taking over the entire processes, Livernois can offer support and a second viewpoint to make the development more efficient.

Investing in engineering with long-term goals in mind can also reduce costs. BMW and Fiat have both financed research into more efficient engines and research centers, seeking to avoid the heavy penalties from the European Union if emissions targets are not met; thus, over the course of time, costs are cut.

Long-term approaches and a willingness to share the load and seek support from outside companies could cut OEM costs, while helping to eliminate errors before production begins.

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