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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Not So Complex Successes and Failures of Technology & Automobiles

As you may or may not know I work on a lot of cars. All kinds of Cars! Most times things are predictable or at least understandable in terms of how and why automobiles are put together. Competition has written a whole new rulebook for innovation and economics when it comes to automobile manufacturing. Most times if I take apart a headliner or a door panel its quite easy to put it back to its original condition with of course some notable exceptions. Ironically those exceptions are not typically done for innovation but for economics. Companies who have prospered the most seem to be those who have carefully studied where to cut corners in the least notable manner to the end consumer. Let me give you a few examples that are changing the way your vehicle is put together and how it is quite apparent that some car manufacturers have been more clever than others.

The use of plastic has become extremely important to some manufacturers by substituting it for metal parts with screws. In most cases this has been a success, especially where companies like Honda or Toyota use more twist and pull plastic push parts that hold firmly in metal frames. I find German automobiles have indeed went to more technology and robotics than apparently the Japanese or American made automobiles, although it also creates unique problems. For instance if I have a part placed in by a robot prior to a windshield being put in then I also do not allow for the possibility of making changes without the windshield being removed to do things in a natural sequence when making changes to say a headliner. Often specific brands or types of companies use similar ideas to put things together. For instance German cars like Mercedes and VW may use some similar ideas, while KIA and Hyundai, Honda and Toyota etc. American manufactures ironically may use ideas from foreign manufactures but not so much say between Ford and GM.

This all sounds like a lot of "what does it really matter", but as I've mentioned from my personal experiences companies that can best hide these cheaper parts in places that are seldom noticed seem to be the best at getting higher consumer satisfaction and getting the resulting higher profits. For instance Trucks do not all now come with completely metal liners in wheel wells, but does the customer care -- probably not.

Personally I think the German concepts have a lot of long term value by using technology as in the video below, however they too can get caught in the web of unintended consequences when certain types of body work must be done and there are no easy solutions to a human correcting what a robot originally manufactured. Toyota recently has shown that things can begin to unravel, when problems are not anticipated but most likely created to save production costs.

On the other hand some companies may be losing because they simply haven't made necessary changes while other manufacturers are cutting those corners in ways that cheapen the product, but rely on the adage "What the customer doesn't know won't hurt them." This of course means you shouldn't be surprised when some little things of your must prized automobile are surprisingly oddly put together by a machine, made of cheap plastic or simply no longer there, because the prize ultimately in the long run goes to the manufacturer who does it the best and at the lowest cost.

1 comment:

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