Nexteer Automotive is on a mission to make driving a car safer, more fuel-efficient, and future-focused through its production of steering and driveline safety-critical car and truck electronic and hydraulic power products. In addition to electric and hydraulic power steering systems, steering columns, and driveline systems, the company manufactures advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and automated driving-enabling technologies for more than 60 customers in every major region of the world, including BMW, Ford, GM, Toyota, and Volkswagen. Nexteer’s products complete the connection from the steering wheel to the wheels on the road.
With software being a key component of most of Nexteer’s products, it’s no surprise that this multi-billion-dollar global business used a data-driven, holistic, and integrative approach to manage its complex global operations. Called the Digital Trace ManufacturingTM (DTM) System, it was created by Nexteer to provide a global architecture that connects and standardizes the thousands of data-producing components generated by its 27 manufacturing plants around the world.
In a virtual factory tour held on August 11, Manufacturing Leadership Council members got to see DTM in action. On the first stop on the tour, MLC members saw the production processes and traceability system at work at the company’s Plant 3 in its Saginaw, Mich., site, near the company’s headquarters in Auburn, Mich. The Saginaw facility, Nexteer’s largest, includes six manufacturing plants comprising 3.1 million square feet of manufacturing floor space where all the company’s core products are made. The site also houses a powerhouse and water treatment site, a global technical center, a test and validation center, and a test track. MLC members learned about the complexities involved in running a large-scale automotive component manufacturing plant, as well as how Nexteer has improved its manufacturing processes using the DTM system to connect data and maximize efficiency across the 150 operations required to manufacture its rack-and-pinion EPS products.
At the next stop, participants learned about how Nexteer uses data-acquisition tools to manage its business. Every time a new program is launched, a detailed process flow map is created for each step. This information is then shared with the equipment builders, so the machines are designed and programmed appropriately for the needed data processing, including what data will be sent to traceability and which processes use barcode scanners or other methods to track part serial numbers, such as RFID tags.
It’s one thing to have a large system collecting data — and it’s another to be able to use that data effectively. Nexteer uses intelligent manufacturing, big data, and local technology to collect, move, store, notify and summarize information for its global traceability system. The system, which is used in all the company’s plants to track information from thousands of machines daily, collects cycle time information. If there’s a fault, it collects and stores information including operation error codes and a description of all the pertinent information.
The data displays summary information for current station status directly on the floor on an hour-by-hour basis. It also makes historical information available for problem-solving purposes and provides automatically generated daily and weekly reports on all facets of the operation that are sent to cross-functional groups for awareness and problem-solving. Flawless materials control and delivery also is critical for production line efficiency, and Nexteer’s system can track material from receiving and shipping through the production line with single-box precision.
Not only does the system allow them to eliminate discrepancies by tracking the movement of each piece of material with high precision, it also eliminates the need for physical inventory processes. The ability to understand the manufacturing process outputs, and how these outputs affect your business goal, is extremely powerful. Nexteer uses its Center of Analysis (COFA) to communicate and correct any issues that arise.
Nexteer’s innovative approach to integrating design and manufacturing systems, from DTM to COFA, enables the company to deliver a dynamic, comprehensive view of its global manufacturing operations on a minute-by-minute basis — and benefits the company’s employees, customers, and shareholders.