5/1/1998 | 11 MINUTE READ

Where Speed Is a Way of Life

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Racing is an integral part of our mainstream engineering. We are using racing technology as a direct means of accelerating the pace of product development," says Charles W. Szuluk, president of Visteon Automotive Systems. Off the track—in the offices, labs, and factories—Visteon personnel are creating an environment of fast product development that can provide the supplier company with a key competitive advantage.


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Everyone is talking about fast product development cycles.

race car

At Visteon Automotive Systems(Dearborn, MI), the word is not just fast. It's more akin to warp-speed. Charles W. Szuluk, president of the supplier organization that has 79,000 employees in 19 countries in 76 plants and 30 sales, engineering, and technical centers, an outfit that produces products ranging from powertrain control systems to headlamps, from chassis to climate control, wants to have products developed in 10 months or less.

That's right: 10 months.

There's nothing magic about that period of time. Steve Delaney, vice president, Supply & Process Leadership, admits with candor: "It's a whole lot faster than we've been." He explains, "We want our product development cycles to be within OEM product development cycles so that we can respond faster." Ten months, then, is a period of time that will permit them to accomplish this.

Steve Delaney
Steve Delaney, Visteon's vice president, Supply & Process leadership, says the Visteon Product Development System is based on a premise that if they can quickly develop, test and produce new technologies, they will be able to provide OEMs with products for integration into vehicles much closer to the actual product launch date than is the norm today."

One of the issues that the car companies face in terms of the technology made available in their vehicles is that it must be "implementation ready" in advance of launch. Simply, they want to be assured that the various components and systems implemented are going to be reliable and will perform well. This is certainly becoming more complicated with the proliferation of electronic systems. As they multiply throughout a vehicle, they can have effects on other systems in a way that purely mechanical devices don't. (Did you ever load a new software program into your computer and then find that you were having trouble with a program that you'd already been using? This is somewhat analogous to what can happen in automotive systems.)

What this could mean is that a given feature in an auto in a showroom right now was "implementation ready" two or three years ago. But if you go to your local Best Buy or CompUSA, the computer system or Walkman that you buy may have been implementation ready a year ago or less.

The Visteon strategy is more akin to what goes on in the consumer electronics business than to what has long been the norm in automotive. (Yet isn't a car or truck becoming, in effect, a consumer electronics device?)

"If a customer"—and although Visteon is part of Ford, the objective is to gain non-Ford business, as well—"requires us to have implementation-ready technology two or three years before the launch of a vehicle," Delaney says, "we're going to provide it. But if we can prove our capability, perhaps we can insert our technology later into the OEM's process." Which would mean that consumers could get later technology in their vehicles. Which would mean that the manufacturer taking advantage of this fast cycle development would have a competitive advantage in the market.

On the Track

"We're not interested in rolling billboards," says John H. Quigley, director, Global Technology Development, Powertrain Control Systems. Anyone watching the CART racing series this year has undoubtedly noticed the car piloted by Scott Pruett for Patrick Racing, the silver car emblazoned with the Visteon logo. To be sure, there is the value of promoting the name among racing enthusiasts, some of whom are influential people within the auto industry. (One of the goals of Visteon is to have a preferred consumer brand name, as in having someone asking a car dealer for a Visteon audio system. This racing sponsorship can help raise awareness for that effort, as well.)

Quigley says that beyond the billboard, Visteon is working in racing in order to have faster product development of various technologies and to help train better engineers.

John QuigleyJohn Quigley heads up Visteon's racing program, as well as serves as the director of Global Technology Development, Powertrain Control Systems. Speaking of racing, he says with a laugh, "it's 15% of my job, but it takes up about 50% of my time."
Work in racing—in a pre-Visteon Ford organization—began 14 years ago in Formula 1 racing with engine management controls. A relationship was forged with Cosworth; a Visteon powertrain engineer is assigned full time to work with the engine builder.

Presently, they are partnered with Stewart-Ford Formula One, Panoz Motorsports (FIA/US GT), and Patrick Racing.

As for the engineers assigned to the racing programs, Quigley says that they are given two- to three-year assignments. "This helps teach our engineers about the speed/cost/quality equation." He suggests that they've been doing a good job on cost and quality. "Racing helps put speed in their mindsets: You can't miss delivery dates." Referencing the day of the week the races are normally held, Quigley adds, "If you're not there on Sunday, you can't win." And if you miss delivery dates of your OEM customers, you can't win, either.

One of the things that racing does for Visteon engineers is provide a concentrated, high-pressure test of components and systems. Racing at 200 mph-plus or going through a series of rapid accelerations/decelerations during two hours or more can give them a fast indication of performance.

"I want racing to be a prove out for our technology," Quigley insists.

The Visteon association with Panoz goes beyond such things as participating in races like the 24 hours at Daytona. Panoz builds a low-volume roadster at a rate of about 200 per year. Visteon is developing advanced technology packages—from audio systems to new types of headlamps—and are getting them put on the cars. This is allowing them to quickly obtain real-world feedback from a limited number of people, people who are generally auto enthusiasts who can be extremely specific about what they like—and don't like. And in the event that there is something that isn't working out well, there is a manageable number of vehicles to deal with.

The Basics

Fundamental to the means by which this velocity is to be achieved is the Visteon Product Development System. And an important enabling technology is an intranet that has been established to connect all of the Visteon personnel the world over.

"The Visteon Product Development System," explains its manager, Gene D. Dickirson, "is based on QS-9000 as defined by the AIAG [Automotive Industry Action Group]." The point here is that QS-9000 provides a roadmap of the points in the process where deliverables are expected by the customer. (In February 1998, just five months after its formation, Visteon achieved the largest corporate QS-9000 certification that had ever happened up to that point in time.)

Added to QS-9000 are the Ford Product Development System and the product development process of Visteon's predecessor, Ford Automotive Products Operations (Visteon was established in September 1997).

According to Delaney, there are three key aspects of rapid product development: a rigorous process definition of what needs to be done to meet customer requirements; disciplined program management; and employment of the tools and technologies that can reduce design and validation time.

Essentially, what they have done is to map the processes used to develop products. For example, say it is an instrument panel. Each step is captured; all of the participants and when they are part of the process are identified. Then, this information is used to create templates. So, for example, if a new instrument panel needs to be developed, the program manager can go onto the intranet and call up "Instrument Panel." Then it is clear what needs to be done, when, and by whom. All of the steps are laid out. To be sure, the templates can be customized if needed, but the fundamentals are there.

One of the things that the creation of the various templates allowed Visteon managers and engineers to do is determine how well they were performing in terms of time. If it was calculated that the development time for that instrument panel was in excess of 10 months, then the constraints were identified and the means by which they could be resolved were addressed.

Digital Repository—Goodbye Binders

The Visteon intranet becomes the repository of the information created during actual product development. "The beauty of it is that everyone has the same information at the same time," Dickirson says. (It's worth noting that there is security in the system; everyone who can access the information is vetted.)

Although efforts are made for co-location of development teams—often this co-location is at the plant where the product is to be manufactured: the Visteon Product Development System includes manufacturing personnel participation at the start—Visteon is a global organization that works to leverage its resources. Consequently, there is the possibility that team members could be, at times, on different continents. The intranet becomes a great collapser of time and space. When people are logging off in Dearborn, they may be logging on in Tokyo.

Historically, Visteon depended on the three-ring binders to keep track of things. But the problem with the binders is that they are physically located in space in one place, unlike the `Net, which is essentially everywhere. Also, there is the problem of making sure that all of the notebooks are kept up to date (one of the issues addressed by QS-9000 is always having up-to-date information).

Faster Testing

There's a whole lot more computing horsepower driving the Visteon Product Development System than that represented by its intranet servers.

"Talking about someone's brand of software isn't the issue. The issue is what you're doing with it, how you're adding value to it, and how your people are interacting with the process," insists Eugene Greenstein. As he's Visteon's manager of Engineering Tools & Methodologies, there's little room to argue with him on this point.

Greenstein says that they've been developing increasingly powerful computer tools during the past several years. Their efforts are clearly in sync with the fast product development program. One of the more time-consuming aspects of developing products is the build for testing. In some cases, these tests, which are often trial-and-error, result in the destruction of the model. And if the particular results aren't what was required, then it is back to the proverbial drawing board and actual model shop.

"We are using computers to eliminate testing, to do a better job of performing what-if studies to optimize the design—things we wouldn't do in the time frame without using the computers," Greenstein explains. For example, he says that when they are developing interior components, it is necessary to do a wide array of ergonomic studies, ranging from determining that the 95th percentile person can reach the controls to making sure that there isn't glare coming off of a reflective surface. "Studies like these can take a long time to do. But today, we can do hundreds of studies in seconds," Greenstein says.

Another example: "If someone is designing an HVAC system, and they want to do an analysis of air flow, it could take two weeks or more just to do the mesh to do computational fluid dynamics. We've created parametric models so that we can do the mesh in two minutes," observes Greenstein.

It's not that they are completely eliminating the need to do conventional physical tests, but they are making it possible to perform fewer, and the likelihood is greater that the performance measured will be closer to what is required than would be the case by the trial-and-error method.

Design and Manufacturing on the Same Page

The design, testing and engineering are just part of the program. At the end, there must be something actually manufactured. And the timing there is similarly critical. Consequently, they are working on a program that will help get design and manufacturing more in sync than has ever been the case.

Dickirson says that the procedures used in the Visteon Product Development System include simultaneous engineering, in which the manufacturing people are involved early on with the designers, engineers, suppliers, and so on. But they are going to take this even further.

According to Charlie Miller, manager, Program and Bill of Material Management, Supply & Process Leadership, "We've developed a project management tool based on commercial software plus some front-end work that we've done that allows a design and manufacturing team to share a common work plan." He explains that ordinarily, there are two work plans: one for design and one for manufacturing. In order to keep both of the plans running smoothly, there are usually team meetings. These are typically supplemented by a project management person who is running back and forth, talking to designers and manufacturing engineers, attending meetings, and attempting to keep the information about the plans flowing.

This new system that Visteon has developed and which is being slowly rolled out is on-line and is easily updated, so updates are entered on a daily basis.

Miller provides an example of the power of this tool. While working on an instrument panel for the next-generation Taurus, there was a change in the date when the prototype will be needed. This information was entered into the system. It automatically changed the existing dates on the design and manufacturing work plan. It put a number of events on the critical path. So a team meeting was called in order to work out how to best accommodate these new dates. At the end of two days, the issue was resolved.

"Normally"—that is, using the conventional methodology—"you'd rely on someone to tell everyone that the due date had changed. Then you'd get the people together to put the dates in the plan. The people would work on it for a while and figure out what the effects will be. Then they'd come together again. Several weeks would pass, and you'd have several more changes," Miller says.

It's not that the new system eliminates changes. It's just that it permits faster communication of these changes and a better understanding through visibility of what needs to happen: it permits the people to quickly determine what their priorities are.

Gene Dickirson says the essence of the Visteon Product Development System is simply "getting everything done on time. That's what this race is all about."