With new equipment and a facility makeover in the rearview mirror, an occupant safety systems provider is prototyping, testing, and validating seatbelts, inflatable restraints, and steering wheels faster than ever.
"All during the refurbishing, we never stopped supplying product to our customers. We didn't miss a beat with any component test," said Jim Essad, Manager for TRW Automotive's Occupant Safety Systems facility in Romeo, MI.
During the recently wrapped multiyear renovation project, TRW invested more than $8 million to upgrade buildings, infrastructure, and equipment. The new machines include static stands and vibration tables that are large enough for full-size SUV side curtain airbags, and an environmental chamber wide and tall enough to accommodate a full-size SUV or vehicle buck.
Steven Peterson, Director of Engineering for Occupant Safety Systems at TRW Automotive in North America, said that equipment upgrades have netted efficiency gains. "Compared to what we had, we've increased our test capacity throughput by 40%. That's a substantial improvement," said Peterson.
Productivity gains also are evident in the prototyping area, where a 3-D digital camera from Atos is getting steady use. "We recently used the camera to make adjustments on a new steering wheel tool. This provided TRW engineers and the tooling vendor valuable information that saved time and ultimately cost," explained Peterson.
TRW also is using the new camera in a bid for new business.
"Because we didn't have all of the data for a commercial truck's sheet metal, we created the cabin's interior dimensions using the 3-D camera. We then used that data to establish the geometry for a seatbelt system fitment. We're now able to say to a customer, 'Here's what we can do for you'," Peterson said.
The Romeo, MI, facility became the first operation in TRW's worldwide network to add a laser-cutting machine for airbags. "When compared to the former manual cutting process, we get product turnaround and cost savings advantages from using the laser cutter," said Peterson.
A Zeiss coordinate measuring machine is a recent equipment purchase for the quality lab within the prototype area. "There's been a 25% increase in throughput in the prototype area, and that's an outgrowth from adding equipment and revising the product flow process," said Peterson.
Compressing the product development timeline helps TRW meet the needs of customers working to reduce validation lead times from the current 24 to 18 months to 12 months.
"The faster a product is validated, the sooner it can be released into the production stage at a cost savings to TRW and the customer," Peterson said.