For GKN Driveline, the world’s leading manufacturer of automotive driveline components, managing constant change is a necessity. The company’s plant in Köping, Sweden, designs and produces all-wheel drive units for some of the world’s premier automotive manufacturers, with a constant stream of new product variants being introduced.
The Köping factory has its roots in the Swedish car industry, beginning life as a production department of Volvo. Now part of the global GKN Driveline group, the facility manufactures a range of all-wheel drive components, with other components being produced at various GKN Driveline locations in Europe. Its customers own prestigious marques such as Land Rover, Volvo and BMW. As well as driveline solutions, the Köping plant manufactures some automotive chassis components and gears for robots.
Driveline product lifetime is generally between 5 and 10 years but the precise design can vary two or three times during this life cycle. When a particular assembly line produces drive units for several car manufacturers and can run up to six variants, it is inevitable that line modifications are required now and then. A new car model normally means a new drive unit variant.
Explains Jan Andersson, Project Director responsible for Assembly & End-of-line Procurement & Projects at the Köping plant,
“The pace of change is most intense when a new product – a PTU (power transfer unit), RDU or RDM (rear drive unit) or FDU (final drive unit) – is introduced and taken into production. The design of a new drive product can change even during the construction of the assembly line on which it is going to be produced. Of course, this not only affects GKN’s operations but it has a huge impact on the suppliers and subsuppliers of the new system.”
Keeping on schedule
is critical Adding extra spice to the process of developing a new drive product and getting it into production is the fact that the time schedule set by the car manufacturer must be kept at all costs. In spite of continuous changes during the design process, this time pressure is a constant feature. Although the design and development period of a drive product may be quite long, when it is finally ready the time schedule is always very tight and it must be brought into production as soon as possible.
“Clients never change their launch plans, so GKN has to meet their schedule requirements. Our overriding priority is that we keep to the customer’s project dates,” states Jan Andersson.
The ideal situation with a new product is when it can be modelled on the ‘base product’ and fitted into one of the existing production lines. “In our product development,” says Andersson, “we have a base product which we try to keep unmodified, although it is not always possible. When a client wants a new variant, modifications are made to this base product. This includes consideration of the manufacturing technology too. The first priority is that the new variant should be manufactured using the existing assembly lines. That’s why they need to be flexible from the outset. If this is not possible, however, a new line will be designed and purchased. But this is more expensive, of course.”
Flexibility and communication are paramount
Given the need to meet tight schedules, GKN’s system for choosing suppliers considers more than simply quality and cost. Other factors in the equation are existing relationships with suppliers, experience with previous deliveries, lead times and the total cost-effectiveness of the scope of supply – encompassing not only system price but also factors such as design flexibility. According to Andersson, excellent communication and a solid working relationship form the basis for a successful project. There is a clear need to work closely with an experienced assembly line supplier that has both a flexible approach and sound project management skills.
Five of the ten all-wheel drive assembly lines at GKN Driveline’s Köping plant have been supplied by Cimcorp, with the first installed back in 2003. All five of these lines have been modified in some way by Cimcorp over the years – including lines being completely rebuilt, moved to a new location on the site or simply upgraded. Jan Andersson justifies the longstanding co-operation in terms of experience and efficiency: “Our first choice for a modification is always the original supplier of the line. It is simply easier for us and we can be confident that everything will be fine.”
Now Cimcorp has been commissioned to deliver its sixth and seventh assembly lines to the Köping factory – one for PTUs and another for FDUs – as solution provider and systems integrator, supplying the lines on turnkey basis.
“Cimcorp has learned that there will always be changes, and is prepared for this and able to handle them,” says Andersson.
“Actually, Cimcorp handles change very well, working hard to introduce it in the fastest and most cost-effective way. Everything is based on the strength of our working relationship, really – we have to communicate the changes we need clearly, and Cimcorp has to take care of them effectively.”
Safety comes first
As you would expect, product quality demands in the automotive industry are extremely high nowadays. This requires high-quality assembly lines that are able to manufacture precision-engineered products, day after day. In the assembly of drive units, measurements need to be particularly exact. “It is tricky to assemble the product,” explains Jan Andersson, “because it must be precise in every aspect. Cimcorp has understood what the quality factors are and is able to deliver on this.” Alongside product quality, personnel safety is a priority.
“It used to be that quality was the top priority but now it is safety first,” explains Andersson. “Cimcorp has grasped the importance of this and is able to design lines that prioritize safety. We have a Safety Engineer, who checks all proposed systems and gives feedback to suppliers. Cimcorp listens, modifies its designs and avoids repeating any mistakes.”
Trust is essential
“A close working relationship and clear lines of communication are critical in our dealings with suppliers,” concludes Jan Andersson, “because of the time schedules we are committed to for our clients.”
As well as its own personnel, GKN Driveline involves main suppliers and subsystem suppliers in its projects. Experts in all fields meet to ensure that every scenario has been considered and that all parties have the information they need for the project to be successful. In a fitting analogy, the trust between client and supplier can be seen as the oil that lubricates a project, easing it to a successful conclusion more quickly that would otherwise be possible.
“The relationship between GKN and Cimcorp is, I would say, more than a normal client-supplier relationship,” admits Andersson.
“It’s a very close co-operation because together we have to find a way of dealing with changing situations rapidly and effectively – communicating, getting answers, making a decision, giving the ‘OK’ and going for it! It’s easier nowadays,” he admits, “because we know each other well – we at GKN know what Cimcorp is capable of and Cimcorp’s project team knows what we want.”
Without a good client-supplier relationship, everything could take twice as long, and that could be enough to put a company out of business.”
TEXT: PAULA OVASKAINEN & HEIDI SCOTT PHOTOS: ARTO HELIN
GKN Driveline – the world leader in automotive driveline technology – has 22,000 employees at 57 facilities in 23 countries. Working in partnership with vehicle manufacturers – including Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and BMW – the company develops driveshaft and geared component technologies that feature in millions of cars produced every year. As ever, the challenge is to transmit power from the engine to the wheels in the most efficient, economical and reliable way possible. The GKN Driveline factory in Köping, Sweden, employs 850 staff in the manufacture of all-wheel drive parts of the driveline, meaning PTU (power transfer units), RDU/RDM (rear drive units/ modules) and FDU (final drive units).