AMS Europe 2007 Conference Report

Conference identifies concerns for automotive manufacturing managers

Eastern Europe, increasing variety and flexible assembly systems dominated discussions at the AMS Conference in Leipzig.

Close to 100 delegates listened to and questioned 19 speakers from vehicle manufacturers and suppliers at the AMS Europe automotive manufacturing conference in Leipzig in February, and three themes dominated the discussions. Alongside presentations on new manufacturing technologies, several speakers highlighted the importance of addressing local markets in Eastern Europe, rather than just treating these regions as low cost manufacturing locations. Others, including Julian Hetherington, Director of the Manufacturing Business Office at Jaguar Cars and Land Rover, and Steven Woolley, Niche Vehicle Manager with Lotus, addressed the challenges of managing differentiation and customer-driven complexity in low and medium volume vehicles.

Hetherington's presentation suggested that manufacturing, vehicle engineering and marketing should work closely together to assess the true costs and revenue benefits of customer-driven complexity. Although modularisation and in-sequence supply are important techniques for managing complexity, this only pushes the costs into the supply chain. Hetherington's twin-pronged solution reduces complexity to maximise profits and uses new manufacturing philosophies to deliver the variety that customers demand.

Niche vehicle manufacturers, meanwhile, could benefit from a move towards electric vehicles, said Lotus's Woolley. A move away from the internal combustion engine would break the established makers' stranglehold on intellectual property, with niche manufacturers having direct access to the latest and highest quality components and electric drive systems. With initial EV volumes difficult to predict, but initially expected to be low, niche manufacturing methods and processes are ideally aligned to provide a basis for effective production. It is possible that the prime mover position in the market may initially be taken by the niche manufacturers.

Conference sessions led by electrical and control systems supplier Schneider Electric looked at the challenges of maintaining the competitiveness of plants in Eastern Europe. Dermot Sterne, a director of metal pressing firm Stadco, highlighted the importance of focussing on servicing local vehicle manufacturer plants and of choosing an appropriate market entry strategy. Other speakers with long market experience supported this approach and emphasised the need for training, flexibility and integration with global programmes. They also focussed on the need maintain a sense of progress and excitement amongst employees. "Eastern Europe will find it increasingly difficult to compete with China on cost, so companies operating there must start to think more like local suppliers with strong domestic markets," said Sterne.

Reiner Manger of Schneider Electric added: "The cultural differences are often underestimated, as is the rate at which Eastern European markets are maturing. By becoming intimate with the local business environment and culture, you will have a stronger company with more opportunities."

Schneider Electric also discussed its new partnership with Kuka, one of the world's largest providers of industrial robots. "The new partnership allows customers to buy the best, most highly integrated spot welding package available," claimed Kuka's Product Manager Joerg Meyer. "This is a great example of bringing together the strengths of two companies to deliver greater efficiencies for manufacturing customers. It's exactly what is needed to help vehicle manufacturers increase their competitiveness."

The conference programme also included visits to the Leipzig plants of BMW and Porsche, as well as the VW plant at Mosel. The next AMS Conference will be held in Detroit, October 1-3. Further information is available at

Event sponsors also included inos (, QAD ( and Uddeholm (