What More Can We Do?
If you haven’t read it already, read the article, Value Added Drives Automotive Suppliers. It traces the evolution of the automotive supply chain, describing how successful suppliers couldn’t keep serving the big boys the same old way. In some ways, such as those described above, metalformers and fabricators are like the digital-music players, and I’m like the automotive OEMs and top-tier suppliers. What was good enough for me before isn’t good enough anymore.
With increased competition and increased demands, parts makers have to adjust, and provide more and more to their customers in order to gain or even just keep business.
“The more our customers can get out of one source the more streamlined the operation, making everything easier to deal with,” Jim Perry, purchasing manager for Milwaukee Wire Products, Milwaukee, WI, told me, explaining how automotive OEMs want suppliers to take over more assembly and project-management services. “Automotive has been driving in that direction for a long time and is doing it very successfully. The expectation is that we supply more and more and contribute more consistently, and we have to improve on that every year.”
Companies like Milwaukee Wire Products have had to take on much more responsibility in terms of value-added processes, product design and manufacturability assistance, project management, warranty responsibility and more. But that’s what the customer wants, and for those who serve automotive, that’s what they’ll have to do.
“These days, customers want to provide their suppliers a broad concept of what their product is going to be,” noted Rayme Bracken, technical sales manager for Great Lakes Metal Stamping, Inc. The company, based in Bridgman, MI, recently opened a plant in Cusseta, AL, in part due to demands by its customers that it be closer to its markets in the South—an action that reinforces the lengths to which suppliers must go to keep customers happy. “As suppliers to OEMs and Tier Ones,” he continued, “we have to coordinate the die build and submit for engineering changes. We really have to run the program, whereas in past years customers provided a program manager or at least had many of the program steps completed before the part supplier became involved.”
Bringing this level of involvement requires that metalformers be much more than parts makers, and must employ the proper equipment, expertise, structure and business plan. That is no small task, but it seems to me that alternatives are scarce, if not nonexistent. And if suppliers can pull that off, instead of a shuttered metalforming plant idling in a brownfield site, greener pastures await.
“Having to wear different hats makes us better,” says Keith Hettig, Great Lakes president, speaking on the need to gain expertise in many areas to serve the company’s customers. “It makes us think more about different processes and different ways to get things done.”
Like it or not, like digital-music players, metalformers need to keep offering more. Those that do that will be music to customers’ ears.
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