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Suppliers Finding New Ways to Work Together

In a partnership to better understand lumbar support, Faurecia is collaborating with BE Aerospace and Steelcase, seat makers in the aircraft and office furniture industries.

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Management Briefing Seminars

TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Working cooperatively with competitors upstream on new technologies brings better ideas at lower cost, says Faurecia North America President James Orchard.

“The industry is recovering,” he says. “We need to use collaboration in a more widespread industry basis to sustain the recovery that is under way.”

A 77-hour online industry jam session in March sponsored by IBM Corp. and the Original Equipment Suppliers Assn. brought together 2,000 industry professionals from 113 suppliers, as well as auto makers, government and academia, resulting in 1,540 ideas for improvement.

Later, suppliers talked about five concepts for change and chose to act on three ideas: breaking the U.S. OEM supplier gridlock, improving the image of the industry to attract the best and brightest and promoting supplier-to-supplier “coopetition.”

Two specific ideas on such non-competitive cooperation already are in development.

One is a collaborative auto research network the OESA is creating. The e-R&D Innovation Network will be located in a 56,000 sq.-ft. (5,202 sq.-m) building in Shelby Township, MI, that Delphi Corp. doesn’t need any more.

As part of this, the OESA assembled the USAutoPARTs (Partnership for Advancing Research and Technologies) Consortium, which includes the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Lab, Michigan’s Automation Alley, Wayne State University and the U.S. Department of Defense’s National Automotive Center.

Five suppliers are supporting the project – ArvinMeritor Inc., Delphi, Faurecia, McLaren Performance Technologies Inc. and Visteon Corp. – and are working with six others to prepare the financing and legal entity that is needed.

The organization plans to work on lightweight materials, testing, standard protocols and others.

David Andrea, vice president-business development for OESA, says the intent is not to replace other ongoing R&D efforts but to bring suppliers more actively into finding solutions.

Some $6 billion is invested annually on automotive R&D in the U.S., Andrea points out, with 40% coming from suppliers.

“The only way to generate those dollars is to commercialize” on technical innovations, Andrea says. “It’s nice to have patents, but you’ve got to make money on them.”

The second idea Orchard refers to in his speech is establishment of a patent portal, also under way with OESA’s guidance.

“Some 80%-95% of patents lay dormant,” Orchard says. Patent owners could get revenue out of ideas that are sitting on shelves because they have gone out of that business or gone in another direction.

“(The) OESA is working in the next 12 months to put actionable means around the idea,” Orchard says.

Suppliers also could share unused capacity of a competitor, rather than building new capacity itself, and share various services.

“I don’t make money on payroll or management health care,” he says. “Why can’t we leverage services so we can focus on what’s important?”

Faurecia also works outside the traditional box with non-competitors.

In a partnership to better understand lumbar support, Faurecia is collaborating with BE Aerospace Inc. and Steelcase Corp., seat makers in the aircraft and office furniture industries, as well as a university and industry researchers.

Lumbar support is behind 35% of complaints in automotive seating, according to J.D. Power and Associates. And 10% of Americans complain of back pain.

“We are developing active lumbar support, which will become the backbone of future seating products in our arsenal,” Orchard says.

The project started with a phone call to Faurecia from colleagues in the innovation department at Steelcase, and the cooperation came together in less than three days.

“A lot more collaboration is going on than one might imagine,” Orchard says. With other partners, Faurecia is working on plastic seat frames, foams and heating and cooling seats.

– with David C. Smith

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