Supplier development the key as China switches from volume to quality

Latest strategies for driving technologies and improving tier supplier output dominate this year's meeting of manufacturers and their equipment providers

Phil Kienle of General Motors: importance of strong partnerships

SHANGHAI, 28 JUNE 2012:   Now in its third year, the AMS China conference saw more than 250 delegates meet for two days of intensive discussions, presentations and networking.  Alongside build quality, they also heard of the continuing challenges of lack of support from equipment providers, and advances in technologies from cryogenic machine tool cooling to paintshop robotics and energy management.

Key OEM executives like Phil Kienle,  Manufacturing Manager of GM China, stressed the value of long-established joint ventures, while newer partnerships were highlighted for PSA with Chang'an, and Jaguar Land Rover with Chery. 
Delegates also heard how variable demand is causing a new kind of production stress, but at the same time how OEMs like market leader VW continue to expand. The construction in Ningbo of its 6th plant started in January this year, and it intends to establish the western-most car plant in China at Urumqi.

The conference was preceded by a plant visit to Shanghai GM on the day before the main discussions, and an introductory cocktail party that evening.
Networking is a key element of AMS conferences, and was facilitated by the mid-conference Gala Dinner hosted by Siemens (left).

Use the links below to read a full report about each element of the conference and its speakers.

Manufacturing strategies

Fan Chunmei of Chang'an PSA discusses joining technologies for new materials in hybrid vehicles

Philip Kienle, Manufacturing Manager, China for General Motors placed great importance on the need for strong partnerships. He told delegates that the company's joint ventures (with SAIC and FAW) weren’t just business deals, in which capital investment was the chief means of communicating, but rather long term relationships in which both parties co-operated with, and listened and learned from, each other. He pointed out that both parties shared the financial risks.

“In China, with China, for China” was how Kienle summed up GM’s success. He believed that a strong ‘customer first’ focus had been implemented to address the requirements of the Chinese car buyer, and added that the current five year plan is to introduce up to 60 new and upgraded models to the market.

The focus from Wang Jinning, Senior Vice-President, Passenger Vehicle Manufacturing, Dongfeng Nissan, was on improving efficiencies in production. 'Explosive’ growth of the Chinese automotive market will slow, he told delegates, leading to potential over-production and increased competition at a time that national wealth was pushing up labour costs.

The next phase is to synchronise customer demand and vehicle production, he said, and commented on the need to develop adaptable strategies which reduce the lead times on new models in order to remain competitive.Among the ways of of doing this are locating technical development centres in production facilities, reducing finished vehicle inventory and optimising logistics.

Conference delegates enjoyed presentations from both major OEMs and leading Tier 1suppliers

The joint venture between PSA and Chang'an (CAPSA) was outlined to delegates by Vehicle Manufacturing Engineering Manager, Welding, Fan Chunmei. The partners are equal investors to the tune of 4 billion RMB (about $630 million).

PSA will increase the localisation of its range with the production of the DS5 starting in 2014. A new plant will feature paint, bodyshop and assembly, with the capacity for aluminium production for hybrid vehicles. Monitoring of the welding process is to be automated to provide better control and quality; the facility will have two weldinglines; one dedicated and one flexible.

Supply strategies for improvement

Wang Haibin, General Manager for China of Siemens Industry Automation outlined the challenges of globalisation and sustainability, and the need to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions. He noted the increasing complexity of vehicle production and said that Siemens is working to simplify processes by, for example, using RFID technology to indentify components. Standardisation of processes, components and logistics would help to deal with the challenges of globalisation. Wang told delegates how sustainability could be improved by synchronising the on/off status of equipment and a shift to ‘holding modes’ during idle periods.

The presentations sparked lively Q&A sessions

The increasing sophistication and quality of components was also the focus of Wilson Ni, Vice-President, ASIMCO Technologies. He highlighted the growing consumer demand for higher quality vehicles fitted with greater levels of equipment, and said that OEM brands were dependent on the quality of components used. Meanwhile, tighter emission controls are exposing the fact that fewer domestic component manufacturers are able to produce either the volumes or quality now required, resulting in a decline in the number of local suppliers.

Rounding off the session, Wu Fang, Lean Management Manager, Huayu Automotive Systems, described the company’s transition from a parts division of SAIC to a public company in 2009, and the use of ‘early intervention’ with parts supply to speed up the production process. Finally, Carlos Marin of WET Automotive Systems China explained to processes involved in the often-overlooked area of vehicle interior engineering, focusing on heating and cooling systems for seats, door panels and steering wheels.

Pressing, forming and joining

The conference provided excellent networking opportunities for all those attending

Neil McMillan, Stampings Project Manager, Suzhou Chery Jaguar Land Rover, talked about how W-DX Ford’s worldwide die design standard had been adopted by JLR when it was part of the Ford portfolio. This covered the differing standards of North America, Europe and the rest of the world and included part fitment, safety and die design. The standard had been developed for high volume manufacturing rather than for a niche, premium brand, and McMillan discussed how applicable it might be for the joint venture with Chery.

He also noted that alongside the development of improved die technology has come an increased demand from consumers for more derivatives of a given vehicle model. This requires greater flexibility in the stamping process, dealing with smaller batch sizes and the need for faster die changeover. This is leading to the possibility of establishing a new die standard, more suited to current market demands.

The differences between servo motor controlled and fixed slide motion presses were discussed by Klaus Rothenhagen, Vice President, AIDA Europe. He explained how the servo motor controlled presses offer greater control of the process resulting in improved quality, productivity and energysavings. The future for press technology is being realised in greater automation and the development of one stroke multiple parts processes, he added.

Adrian Ellis, Technical Integration Manager at Profil UK, delivered a presentation on the benefits of mechanical fastener technology when utilised in press work and BIW. He highlighted the cost reduction that he said could be made in the press shop by removing certain process steps. While the set-up cost is higher, over the longer term this method was more cost effective, he claimed.

Managing power, energy and environment

Delegates had the chance to question speakers during the interactive part of each session

The challenges facing Chinese carmakers in plant energy management were outlined by Raymond Zhang, Automotive Segment Manager for Schneider Electric. He presented the solutions offered by his company that employed both automation and standardisation to simplify processes and improve efficiency.

Chen Wei, System Application Manager for Siemens China, also presented ways of improving energy management. The four steps he outlined are: analysis of energy usage; transparency gained by installing a measurement system; allocating energy to cost centres; and process optimisation from installing automatic load management and energy- optimised products.

Stamping and body in white

Panel members (from right): Harry Schneider of Shanghai Volkswagen, Chang Junjie of Lifan and David Hou of General Motors

One of the key issues for Dr. Jochen Schneegans, Manager R&D for EDAG, was improvements in welding technology, to which he said that the company’s VarioPicker resistance spot welding system could contribute. It allows the spot welding of door, hood and tailgate skins without causing any distortion in the surface panel, he told delegates. This solved a problem of the bonding agent weakening during the paint curing process, which led to fitment issues.

The latest trends in laser welding were covered by Thomas Bubel, Senior Manager for Trumpf Laser. He offered a number of advantages including that the process can weld smaller flanges, offering savings in weight (up to 1kg on a roof panel, he said) and material costs while also providing higher torsional stiffness in the join.The use of remote laser welding offers far greater control and accuracy and improves on productivity, claimed Bubel.

In a joint presentation from KUKA, delivered by Tao Wang, chief executive of KUKA Systems China and Klaus Konsek, head of sales and engineering, they introduced the company’s RoboSpin spot welding system. This features the robot arm rotating the spot weld electrode through a small number of degrees, which reduces cycle times by reducing the point-to-point time for each weld. The rotation also helps to extend the number of welds on aluminium parts before the tip needs dressing, they said

Material handling and final assembly

Chang Junjie, Director of Logistics for Chongqing Lifan Passenger Vehicle Company told delegates about how Lifan had developed from manufacturing motorcycles to cars, and about how influential in-plant logistics is in the smooth running of final assembly and ensuring the quality of the final product. “Some manufacturing and engineering guys believe that quality only comes from the assembly phase. I feel that [in plant] logistics is a major contributor. Bad material sourcing and logistics are amplified by assembly, leading to a bad [end] product,” he told delegates.

Chang noted how vital is controlling the lead times of delivery, since this can affect cycle times and the cost of overtime caused by lead time errors. Even though Lifan currrently has a relatively low output, its product range offers a lot of variants and a great deal of customisation, and has needed air freight logistics to keep up with production. The company has introduced what he described as a holistic solution for its production processes, using specialised personnel who track goods by a batch management system.

Harry Schneider, Nanjing plant manager for Shanghai VW described the progress of Car Plant 4 at his location 240km west of Shanghai. In the last four years the Nanjing and Anting plants have increased yearly production from 456,000 to 1.45 million vehicles. The new plant at Yizheng (CP5), producing the new Santana and a new Skoda, currently sees 300,000 vehicles per year, while construction of the Ningbo (CP6) plant began in January this year with production due to start at the end of 2013.

Designated Car Plant West, the planned Urumqi plant in the far west of China, the furthest inland of any OEM, has seen the implementation of a clear ‘decision tree’ for choosing when to automate in the facility, said Schneider. This looks at processes that require automation: for safety reasons, eg laser welding; to maintain high surface and dimension quality; to perfect cycle time; and to gain the best profitability. He explained how the underbody is largely welded manually but the dimensionally critical upper body uses more accurate automated joining processes. He added that the paintshop is almost 100% automated.

David Hou, CCRW manager, explained to delegates how GM China is following the company's global manufacturing system. “Standardisation gives us a global model for production planning and helps with sharing the expense of global car making. [But] there are variations [in China] due to the fact we have a number of different Chinese machine suppliers. However, these suppliers are now beginning to work to the GM CCRW template.”

“Whenever we plan for a new project we consider all providers," he said, "including Chinese companies, who are very good on cost. Plus they are familiarising themselves with many OEMs’ standards," he added. Hou also noted that it is important for overseas equipment suppliers to get more local representation.

VW's Schneider addressed the same issue: “Spare parts for machines can be a problem," he said bluntly. "We allocate 3% of our budget to buy and keep machine spares, but even sourcing from a local warehouse parts can take time to reach the line, so we probably need to always have spares right by the line.”


Wei Dawei, Paint Processes and Facility Manager, Shanghai General Motors, described how the OEM had upgraded its paintshop to use ‘greener’ processes. He gave the example of thin-film phosphate pre-treatment which reduced waste sludge by 90%. Wei also covered the high throw power of ELPO which delivered better coverage; 15um externally and 9um internally instead of 23um on a typical box section of underbody. S-GM employs a number of technologies to reduce wastage in the paintshop including dry scrubbers and robotic application of PVC anti-chip coatings, he added.

New technology was also outlined by Guenter Eberhard, Key Account Manager for Eisenmann. This included the use of venturi dry spray booths with air recirculation, and the relative energy consumption of wet and dry scrubber technology. Looking forward, Eberhard talked about the development of ‘skidless’ painting, which will be designed by 201, he said.

Robotic application in the paintshop was covered by Maxwell Zhou, paint process automation lead centre manager for ABB Engineering (Shanghai). He discussed the challenges of energy saving and the differences between stay-on and no-patch methods, and combing these motions to paint the body with two robots that don’t leave the body. Improved atomisers that increase the flow rate from 300 to 700cc/m mean fewer robots are needed, so lowering costs said Zhou. He also showed the design of a new door opener that cuts the interference with the paint robots.

The need to automate sealing was raised by Patrick De Schepper of Volvo. Zhou replied: “Manual sealing creates a bottleneck so automation is preferable, [though]there will still be the need for manual application in hard to reach areas.” Wei Dawei of Shanghai General Motors told delegates that anyway there are not enough full sealing automation process suppliers, in Chuiba. "And cost can be an issue,” added Wei.

Into the future

Ask the Carmaker: probing questions from delegates and insights from manufacturing leaders like Chen Jianwei of Guangzhou Automobile

The final session of the conference returned to one of the key themes of the conference, that of supplier quality. Worthy Heck, Product Line Director (Brakes) for Beijing West Industries told delegates that the company's acquisition of the braking and suspension systems business from Delphi in 2009 had led to the current three manufacturing plants, two technical centres and a proving ground.

Worthy shed some light on the production and investment pressures felt by companies like BWI and how the demand for components can vary greatly depending on the success of the vehicle model. He told delegates of the high levels of capital needed for tooling and materials as suppliers make capacity planning and investment decisions many months (or years) before the start of production. Across the board, he said, BWI faces on average six-month delay in SOP dates.

Also responding to questions from delegates in trhe final panel session were John Lu of HIGER, Chang Junjie of Chongqing Lifan Passenger Vehicle Company, Wei Dawei of Shanghai GM and Mathew Ma of Federal Mogul.

Chen Jianwei of GAC also voiced the concerns of vehicle makers about the volatility of China's current car market and its effects on developing new models like the company's new SUV, the GS5. He echoed Worthy’s comments that this in turn creates issue with suppliers, and talked about the need to work with with suppliers to create a strong foundation “to move China from being a big manufacturer to being a powerful manufacturer.”

Plant visit to Shanghai GM

One of the highlights of AMS China 2012 was a visit to the Shanghai General Motors production facility. VME Director Joerg Escher delivered an informative presentation on the plant before leading the group on a tour of the facility.

The site has north and south plants for BIW, paint and assembly, and includes a powertrain section. Assembly lines are positioned close to the outside wall of the building, so allowing materials to feed directly to the line with the minimum of conveyance. The plant currently operates two shifts using three crews. The lines have mixed content production with a number of variants; high and low (equipment) content vehicles are alternated to help avoid bottlenecks forming.

SGM employs more than 14,000 staff in China and produces in excess of 1.2 million vehicles per year.The location hosts GM China's vehicle design centre, the Pan Asian Technical Automotive Centre (PATAC), which contributes heavily both to SGM vehicle development and to GM products globally.



Value for each delegate

 AMS China 2012 provided an all-in package for a single delegate fee containing:  
1) Networking opportunities

Careful scheduling allowed interaction between customers and suppliers at: 

  • introductory cocktails
  • coffee breaks
  • networking lunches
  • informal meetings within the conference area
  • the mid-conference business dinner 

2) Learning
Careful unique and high-level gathering of senior executives and analysts provided:

  • formal speaker presentations
  • Q&A discussion sessions
  • break-out workshops
  • soft copies of the speaker presentations after the conference

3) Business / social environment

We recognise the all-important personal dimension to any business relationship, so the event provided a relaxed environment for the mid-conference Gala dinner and the pre-conference cocktail reception

Bookmark this site for news of the AMS China 2013 conference. 
AMS also hosts annual conferences in Brazil, in Sao Paulo from 3-4 September, and India, in 2012 in Pune from 5-7 December.

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