A Holistic Approach to Integrating Manufacturing & Design
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A Holistic Approach to Integrating Manufacturing & Design

By Dennis Hoeg, Vice President and North America Chief Operating Officer, Nexteer Automotive

Dennis Hoeg, Vice President and North America Chief Operating Officer, Nexteer Automotive

In today’s competitive landscape, companies are constantly looking for ways to optimize capacity, increase efficiency and enable global standardization – all while still delivering high-quality product performance.

As a global Tier-1 automotive supplier that produces advanced steering and driveline systems for OEMs around the world – we wanted to achieve these same objectives. We knew that doing this would increase the value, responsiveness and quality that we could offer to our customers.

At Nexteer, we emphasize innovation and technology leadership across our product portfolio – so we set out to develop a manufacturing system that reflected this same emphasis. To put it simply, we wanted the “what we do” and the “how we do it” to align.

Earlier this year, we unveiled our home-grown solution for this: Digital Trace™ Manufacturing – the automotive industry’s most advanced, holistic, integrative approach to design and manufacturing systems. This award-winning system uses the latest technologies and data analytics within one common, global architecture.

Digital Trace™ Manufacturing is unique from what is commonly called “digital thread” or “manufacturing automation” because of the vastness of what Digital Trace™ Manufacturing covers. Because of the scope and the level of integration, it will take us several phases to fully implement the entire system – but we’re already seeing impressive results in the initial phases.

These Digital Trace™ tools are already helping us become more agile and responsive both internally and to our customers. We are changing our business processes to reduce lead time for development and industrialization, and we’re working to improve our productivity and operational efficiency in all our plants. We see Digital Trace™ Manufacturing as a journey that will continue to make a difference in how we operate our production facilities and overall business for years to come. With all the new technology available to assist our business, now really is a great time to be in manufacturing.

Connecting the Dots: How It Works

Digital Trace™ Manufacturing helps deliver high-quality product performance while boosting cost-competitiveness and global capacity optimization. It does this byusing a connect-the-dots approach, in which the thousands of data-producing dots around the world are standardized and talk to one another.

Each dot represents a machine, process, database, document, workplace robot and so on. When the dots are connected, the result is one common, global architecture. Digital Trace™ Manufacturing allows us to deliver a dynamic, comprehensive view of our manufacturing operations in real time – a big payoff for our customers, employees and shareholders. Digital Trace™ Manufacturing also allows us to quickly replicate any improvement in design or production made at one location at other locations globally.

Making a Real-World Impact: Technology & Process Examples

As part of the implementation of Digital Trace™ Manufacturing, we’re introducing several cutting-edge technologies and processes into our manufacturing operations. This helps quality engineers proactivelyconfirm product quality early in the process – potentially eliminating the need for costly end-of-line testing. Some examples include:

• Using a heat map to visually identify high-risk pallets in real time – allowing service personnel to proactively perform maintenance before an issue occurs.
• Tracking and storing serial-number-specific data to measure performance along the manufacturing process.
• Keeping a virtual Center of Analysisto analyze the root causes of rejected parts and make quick, corrective actions.
• Integrating databases that capture product information so that complete analysis and swift problem-solving are possible.
• Implementing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES), which monitors and manages processes in real time across factory floors.

Streamlining and Enhancing Manufacturing Processes: Lessons Learned

While our road to Digital Trace™ Manufacturing started as part of a greater effort to improve processes, it has truly been a team effort to get to where we are today. We now have the foundation that will connect all of our manufacturing data points into one entity – which enables a long list of benefits for our employees, customers, suppliers and shareholders.

When we set out on this journey, there was no blueprint, no roadmap for us to follow – we had to create our own. For others interested in starting down a similar path, I recommend thinking big, starting small, fixing problems quickly and scaling as quickly as you can with each of the tools you develop.

As we developed and now implement Digital Trace™ Manufacturing, it has been important for us to spend extra time on developing the requirements before we jump into the software and hardware solutions. Understanding the ultimate needs and valueshas been and will continue to be critical to being successful in this journey.

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