How Mobility Suppliers Can Accelerate Program Launches

William Crane, IndustryStar
June 7, 2021
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We need to lean into this opportunity by picking up the pace at which our teams bring new products to market to position our companies for sustainable profits in the years ahead.

If cost cutting and continuous improvement defined the recent decade for Tier I automotive suppliers, speed and agility will drive mobility in the 2020s. Yes, cost will remain a core tenet of supporting OEMs, but our ability to repeatably launch new technology innovations will determine future winners. Thus, it is our ability to “out-launch” the competition that presents a rare rewrite of our industry rulebook. We need to lean into this opportunity by picking up the pace at which our teams bring new products to market to position our companies for sustainable profits in the years ahead.  

Much has been made about the Industry 4.0 era we are navigating. Buzz words like Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Cloud Computing and Artificial Intelligence (AI) can fog our ability to determine the best path forward. As leaders, we must balance our limited people and capital resources with embracing new technologies in order to maintain our focus on delivering the assemblies and components that pay our light bills.

A core theme from the recent Executive Roundtable hosted by the World Economic Forum and Automation Alley on their joint Advanced Manufacturing Hub (AMHUB) initiative for Michigan at the Integ8 Conference in Detroit, Michigan, was that these new technologies are simply new tools to do our jobs better. Thus, as leaders we need to take these new tools off their pedestals and simply experiment to determine the best tools that produce the most outsized results. Below are four practical applications of select Industry 4.0 tools and how to leverage them to accelerate your future program launches.

1. Conquer Program Launch Mountain Man Chart with On-Demand Support

Traditionally, we have addressed our people bandwidth challenge during launch via three fixed cost approaches 1) hiring full time employees 2) staffing contract employees and/or 3) engaging specialty consulting firms. These approaches can work fine, although they tend to limit operationally flexibility and be expensive. Today, there are many ways you can engage an on-demand Managed Services partner to execute tasks and processes for your launch where you have people bandwidth gaps. Targeted applications include supplier quoting, supplier onboarding and Production Part Approval Process (PPAP) execution, but newer firms can now support all end-to-end activities from early system design to production. A newer breed of Managed Services firms, technology enabled services firms, are lowering fixed people costs in half by doing and delivering work using cloud software. Aside from the lower cost, a Managed Services partner eliminates the revolving door of outside people, that must be ramped up and down, as you have a consistent partner for each launch. Further, your critical new program technology data is better protected using a dependable partner and software.

2. Speed Execution with Agile Program Management Cloud Software

New complex technologies that are being infused into future electric autonomous vehicles require that our teams collaborate more real time across functions. If we are to foster an increased pace of bringing new products to market, we must find more and more ways to reduce the use of slower manual tools. Individual manual analysis tools e.g. Microsoft Excel are simply not the right purpose-built tools to organize, track and report launch open items. Give your team access to the latest cloud collaboration software to make teamwork inside and outside your organization frictionless. Flexible agile program management tools that offer teams the ability to easily create, assign and edit tasks can have a dramatic impact on productivity verse noncollaborative open items lists. These low-cost cloud software systems can improve team productivity by as much as two-times which can have the same impact as hiring additional full-time team members. Arguably more important, the positive impact to improving team member “flow” by reducing email traffic and follow-up can boost employee job satisfaction and retention. To gain greater flow, track launch open items digitally on collaborative software and report out real time to OEM customers during pre-production meetings to reduce the effort needed to communicate progress.

3. Automate Plan for Every Part to Free Up Team’s Time to Execute

Arguably the biggest Achilles heel of automotive program launches is our “pre-ERP” manual Microsoft Excel bill of materials, BOMs, that morph over time into the spreadsheet of all spreadsheets. Historically, this approach has worked ok for lower tech assemblies, but tighter timelines and more complexity are forming dents in our home-grown tools. Today suppliers are accelerating new program launches by deploying Automated Plan for Every Part (PFEP) cloud software to bridge the technology divide between Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. Automated PFEP software enables multiple cross functional team members from advanced engineering to purchasing to manufacturing to view, edit, and track changes real time. Further, Application Programing Interfaces, (APIs) can be easily connected to your PLM software to pull the latest part change notices. Once a program transitions to production, APIs can push final commercial data e.g. suppliers, costs and lead times to ERP to dramatically reduce the time it takes to process and enter data. On average the productivity gains are similar to agile software while launch cost, time and risk typically are all also positively impacted.

4. Digitize Reporting Dashboards to Foster Greater Agility

The coming era of mobility will be marked with rapid change, changing business models e.g. mobility-as-a-service, joint ventures e.g. GM-LG Chem and OEM mergers e.g. PSA-FCA. As leaders, the operational flexibility to quickly pivot launch strategies when opportunities arise will be increasingly important. It will pay to be able to decisively act; real time access to software digital dashboards on current and future program launches will be a key enabler to realize this vision.

As the very nature of the type and way in which we structure our work also evolves we need a team of empowered leaders not subservient lieutenants. This culture adjustment can take time, but it represents a new frontier of productivity acceleration. Mapping your Big Data into user friendly dashboards with the latest program information throughout early product development will better empower your leaders to be more effective. Innovation requires swifter decision making based on the latest information. Utilize automated dashboards that present program key performance indicators (KPIs) such as engineering, design and testing (ED&T), tooling and gage target verse actual costs. Allowing each individual and the collective team to digest the right information at the right time will foster greater agility.

Developing a Launch Competitive Advantage

Tomorrow will be different, dramatically different, than today. It is up to us to welcome the future with open doors—to navigate our companies and to empower our teams with the right Industry 4.0 tools to lead. The above practical technology applications represent significant arbitrage opportunities for those early adopters to harness impactful program launch productivity gains. The key, as with anything new, is to get started.

“You must be proactive in understanding Industry 4.0 technologies, not necessarily immediately throwing dollars at solutions, but gaining technical awareness and making some bets is critical,” adds Pavan Muzumdar, COO of Automation Alley.

Get started today. Seek information, attend events and trial technologies to embark on the journey of developing a program launch competitive advantage. The future will go to those that are in the Industry 4.0 arena!

William Crane, IndustryStar
William Crane, IndustryStar

William Crane, CEO of IndustryStar, an Ann Arbor, Michigan-based on-demand supply chain services and software technology company that partners with mobility leaders to reduce the cost, time and risk of bringing new vehicles, modules and components to market. William is a trusted advisor in supply chain with demonstrated results starting, launching and enhancing procurement, logistics, supplier quality and manufacturing organizations. His work has appeared frequently in the Institute for Supply Management, Sourcing Industry Group, and Modern Material Handling. William’s passion for bringing technologies to market that have a positive impact on the world can be found via his blog Supply Chain for Tomorrow’s Technology. William is also Host of the Supply Chain Innovation podcast where he interviews top change-makers to uncover strategies, tips, and tools for improving new product launches.

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