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In-house painting offers competitive advantage for Tier One supplier

September 1, 2001

8 Min Read
In-house painting offers competitive advantage for Tier One supplier

The first thing Pavel Neuman, president of Peguform Group's Eastern Europe business unit, talks about when discussing Peguform Bohemia's business is market share. Like all of Peguform, as well as its parent company Venture Holdings, Peguform Bohemia is positioned to serve specific needs of automobile makers. Market share is the measuring tool. Maintaining and growing the company's market share is critical. 

Peguform focuses primarily on three auto market segments. In the Czech Republic, it is the second largest maker of dashboards with 19 percent of the market. It leads in door panels with a 72 percent share, and in bumpers its market share is a full 100 percent (Figure 1). 

There is exactly one automaker in the Czech Republic, Skoda, part of the VW Group, and a truck leaves Peguform for the Skoda plant on average every 30 minutes. Peguform Bohemia has also extended its reach to German OEMs, supplying parts for Audi, Opel, and most recently DaimlerChrysler's popular PT Cruiser. 

Automakers are asking for more assemblies and less individual components. They want subsystems and modules like instrument panels, door panels, and center consoles delivered as a unit, ready to install. 

Partly as a reaction to this demand and partly for financial reasons, the number of Tier One suppliers is shrinking, while mergers and acquisitions enlarge the remaining companies. 

Venture Holdings Co., which includes Peguform, has 59 operations spread across North, Central, and South America, and six countries in Europe. Last year's sales of US$ 1.83 billion make it number 14 among motor vehicle suppliers listed by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Competing in this market is not at all easy, but Peguform has found a winning formula: investment in efficient, complete production systems. 

Systems, Systems, Systems 
The company's plant in Liberec, Czech Republic is clear evidence of its position as a strong competitor. Though originally called Plastimat, the company has been a molding facility since 1963. The Peguform Group was formed in 1996, and has been part of Venture Holdings since 1999. Within Peguform and Venture is a wealth of experience related to Peguform Bohemia's door panel, dashboard, and bumper markets. You can see it in Liberec's bumper production system, which can produce 4000 bumpers a day, painting included. 

System is a key word here. For instance, you cannot help but notice the Kanban pull systems in active use in every department. Bumper production is one continuous moving line from molding to painting to customer. This line includes 42 injection molding machines ranging from 500 to 3200 tons. Active technologies include low-pressure backmolding with textile and film inserts, and a lot of gas-assist molding using Battenfeld's Airmould technology. 

Peguform currently has five large presses supported by one Airmould compressor/regulator system, and it will soon add another system so it can have gas on more presses. Installing the gas-assist system, it says, has notably improved product quality, especially of such things as leather-textured parts and large, flat surfaces. Sink marks are a thing of the past, even on the very thick parts, and cycle times and material costs have both been cut. 

A pair of 2700-ton Battenfelds (Figure 2) installed in 1987 produce bumpers 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and aside from mold changes and maintenance, are turned off only when the plant shuts down during the Christmas holiday season. In all, they operate about 6400 hours/year. There are six big Battenfelds in the plant currently. 

Teams of Painting Robots 
Peguform's system encompasses not only molding, but also secondary operations such as painting. Bumpers need to be painted a myriad of colors, and are delivered in JIT batches. The first automated paint line installed at Liberec three years ago was for large exterior parts, mostly bumpers. Since then two other lines have been added. One is a two-booth line for interior parts, the other a single-booth line for parts such as spoilers. Before installing these in-house paint systems, Skoda bumpers molded in Liberec were shipped right past the Skoda factory to Germany for painting, and then brought back. 

The paint lines themselves are so advanced that the system contractor, Eisenmann Lackertechnik of Germany, brings prospective customers to Peguform to see them in action. All three lines are totally enclosed to minimize environmental effects, and each is fully automated. The large line employs 18 ABB articulated industrial robots. An offline robot is used to "teach" the programs for specific parts. 

Molded bumpers enter the painting area on an overhead conveyor and are placed on skids. Each is washed before painting using 66C (150F) water. After forced air drying using filtered air (Figure 3), bumpers enter the first chamber for surface treatment to ensure good paint adhesion (Figure 4). The bumper is given a primer coat, a base color coat, and a clear lacquer top coat, each in a separate chamber (Figure 5). 

Though the paint lines are optimized for large or small parts, they are flexible enough to handle a variety of dimensions and shapes. The skids that hold the parts are coded to signal to the paint robots what the part is and what coating is required. As the skid approaches, the correct program is activated and the robot does the rest. 

When a different color is needed, the robots quickly flush the old paint. Then, with very human-like movements, the robot opens a small box containing a cleaning tool, inserts its "hand" (the paint head) for the cleaning, withdraws, closes the box, and brings the paint head to the ready position for the next skid. A complete paint changeover takes about 55 seconds, not enough time to interrupt the flow of other skids along the line. 

Getting Close to the Customer 
Of course, having such high-end systems in place means nothing without the appropriate management and customer-focused approach to back them up. Pavel Neuman has a list of progressive management programs that are in place or in development at Peguform. Lean manufacturing and total process management streamline the production systems. In addition, a major effort is aimed at involving Peguform's people directly in the customer's products. Each customer has a dedicated customer business team (CBT), and a CBT executive works at the largest customer sites. Seeing the car coming off the line with your products in and on it, says Neuman, is very important. 

Peguform has one employee, referred to as the key customer assurance person, working in each major customer's plant. Peguform is acutely aware that its customers, even though they all make cars, are not the same. 

For instance, when Audi became a client, Peguform found that the automaker spoke a different language than its other clients—describing things, he says. Before any orders were written for Audi's new A4, a significant number of Peguform employees visited the Audi plants, primarily at Ingolstadt in Bavaria, to learn the "language." The communication worked. Starting in 2003, Peguform will make parts for a revised A3. This marks not only new business, but also new technology for Peguform: multicomponent molding. A part that was previously two pieces welded together will now be one. 

In 1991, Peguform Bohemia had 900 employees. Today it has 1500, an increase of about 65 percent. In that same period, productivity rose by 500 percent. That, says Neuman, is what is needed to compete in the cost-reduction world of the auto supply business, and that is why Peguform has invested more than $10 million in the Liberec plant alone. Neuman says the OEM's search for lower costs will not change. Peguform's approach, he says, is not to wait for requests to cut costs, but rather to proactively find solutions and present them to its customers. 

Editor's note: At the K 2001 Show in Düsseldorf (Oct. 25 to Nov. 1), a Peguform Bohemia mold for the dashboard of a Skoda Felicia will be running in a demonstration of a new machine at the Battenfeld stand. 

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