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OEMs and suppliers need new technologies to survive

New technology is a competitive edge for any manufacturing company. OEMs and suppliers alike need new technology to keep them in the race for better productivity, higher quality products, and reining in prices. No industry knows that better than the automotive industry.

Clare Goldsberry

December 18, 2014

5 Min Read
OEMs and suppliers need new technologies to survive

New technology is a competitive edge for any manufacturing company. OEMs and suppliers alike need new technology to keep them in the race for better productivity, higher quality products, and reining in prices. No industry knows that better than the automotive industry. In the latest IHS SupplierBusiness editorial, the editor of that publication talks about Ford and one of its suppliers, Magna, collaborating with a number of other companies in a new program to foster innovative transportation-related start-ups in Detroit.

"As part of the program, ten start-up companies will be selected from across the United States to move to Detroit and take part in a three-month evaluation. Each of the 10 companies will receive $120,000 in funding, intensive training and mentoring in business development, and help with customer acquisition and effective executive recruiting. The program is set to run over a three-year period, with a total of 30 participating start-up companies," said IHS SupplierBusiness.

Escape_Interior_0.jpgThe idea is to model the program after that of the high-tech industry in Silicon Valley as a way to find new technologies that OEMs and suppliers might otherwise miss. "California has seen an explosion in the number of small start-ups that have developed a unique product, sometimes with only a single use and a small team of employees, that are quickly picked up by the hugely diversified major industry players looking for the latest new tech," according to the Supplier-Business editorial.

We know that much of the innovation that happens in U.S. manufacturing happens in small companies among entrepreneurial people with the freedom to explore new ideas that people in huge corporations can't due to constraints such as company size (e.g. large companies aren't as nimble and flexible as small ones), departmental silos and regulatory issues that slow down the process. And the IHS SupplierBusiness editorial notes that the initiative will be a "part of a larger strategy as suppliers fight in an increasingly fierce battle to maintain a competitive R&D edge, not only over other suppliers but also their OEM customers, who have ceded a great deal of ground on the technology front to suppliers over the last few years."

Even the big OEMs know that often it's their suppliers that come up with really great ideas. I see many molders and moldmaking companies, mold component, machinery and automation companies that come up with really great ideas that advance technology not only in their area of expertise but enhance the entire manufacturing stream from mold to finished part.

For example, three years ago at NPE2012, one of the showstoppers was a 16-cavity syringe mold that utilized in-mold labeling to create the measurement markings and an anti-counterfeiting label that could only be seen under a "black light" to ensure that the pre-filled syringes contained authentic medicine. A total of six companies collaborated on this project that resulted in tremendous interest particularly from the pharmaceutical and medical device OEMs. Most had never seen anything like that before.

After the show, one company had an OEM customer come to them and ask, "Why didn't we know anything about this technology before?" This OEM felt that their supplier was holding back critical technology that could be extremely beneficial to the OEMs competitive edge. The OEM then decided to hold a technology symposium in which each of its suppliers were to come to the corporate headquarters and present all the new technologies available in their respective fields so that the OEM could have access to them.

I've written about mold manufacturers who have developed new technologies such as an in-mold process for molding leather onto door and instrument panels, and other extremely interesting technology only to be told by the automotive OEM that they need the technology - or didn't want to pay the moldmaker for the technology.

I've attended customer seminars in which moldmakers and molders introduce new technology developed with materials suppliers, mold component suppliers and new process developers such as Trexel's MuCell process. I had the privilege of attending a day-long technology symposium at Proper Group International's (a mold manufacturer for the automotive industry) headquarters in Livonia, MI, where they displayed an instrument panel structure developed for Ford using the MuCell process.

I've heard how difficult it is to introduce something new to the automotive OEMs. Two years ago in an article I wrote [Trexel pushes MuCell into the mainstream] in which Trexel's President and CEO Steve Braig, explained the difficulty in trying to introduce the process to Ford to help the automaker meet its demand for lightweighting its vehicles.

At NPE2009, Trexel had a mold running an automotive part at the Engel booth. "We met with some people who saw the possibilities of the process, believed in it and soon after Trexel started working with Ford," Braig said in that article.

Between the mold manufacturer (Proper Group) that also had the 3,000-ton injection molding press that could handle the process development as well, and Trexel, Ford obtained access to this technology. But it's never easy or quick to sell the big automotive OEMs on new technology.

The IHS SupplierBusiness editorial concludes by saying that the program "is expected to give participating companies exposure to new ideas much more quickly than having to wait for full development, as well as the opportunity to get involved and respond quickly to the most promising development. Moreover, the program is a comparatively inexpensive way to help foster technology development across the industry and provide access to unique solutions that might not be generated out of the more traditional companies."

OEMs need new technologies and oftentimes suppliers can provide some really great ideas to help solve the challenges that OEMs face today. But at the end of the day, the supplier must be rewarded appropriately for their R&D investment. Will that happen?

About the Author(s)

Clare Goldsberry

Until she retired in September 2021, Clare Goldsberry reported on the plastics industry for more than 30 years. In addition to the 10,000+ articles she has written, by her own estimation, she is the author of several books, including The Business of Injection Molding: How to succeed as a custom molder and Purchasing Injection Molds: A buyers guide. Goldsberry is a member of the Plastics Pioneers Association. She reflected on her long career in "Time to Say Good-Bye."

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