Automotive leaders discuss industry challenges at CMTS

Monday October 24, 2011
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Leaders from the Canadian automotive sector discussed the challenges facing manufacturers and what it’s going to take for the industry to thrive during the APMA Automotive Summit at the Canadian Manufacturing Technology Show in October.

Empowering employees is the key to success, said James Phillips, senior partner with Operations Expertise Inc., and managing partner with Innovative Systems. He offered Toyota as a good example of a company that is successful at doing this.

“Toyota Cambridge received 5,000 suggestions from their employees last year. But what is more significant, and something that we can learn, is that they implemented 95 percent of them. They implemented almost every suggestion from the floor, and that’s what makes them great,” said Phillips. “Ninety-five percent is their commitment to their employees. And by doing that, they empower them every day to be as good as they are. In North America, we are not empowering our people.” 

A positive attitude is also important, Phillips added.

“The thing that differentiates good companies in my opinion from other companies is not the investment dollars, it’s not the size; it’s the attitude. It’s the attitude that says we can do and we will do. That’s what Toyota is very good at. They do what they say they are going to do.” 

Joseph Loparco, co-president of AGS Automotive Systems and Tiercon Corp., urged attendees not to forget about potential local partners.

“I’m pretty proud of some of the companies that we have in Canada. I think there are some real deep, deep skills that we have. We have some tremendous breadth of capability,” said Loparco. “We have a massive automotive cluster right under our nose here in Southern Ontario. Some of the best mould making and tool and die capability in the world. And it’s right here for the taking. And in some cases, we spend our time trying to source tools from China to save money. I know we all have to be competitive, but while we’re doing that sometimes we’re missing the golden opportunity for some synergy with some very capable local players.”

Loparco said Canadian automotive manufacturers and suppliers need to broaden their horizons, and focus on globalization and diversifying their customer base. With that, he said, comes revenue and ideas. 

He also said proximity to OEM assembly plants is key, and points to plant closures as a real problem.

“Those are going to hurt us because freight and logistics is just one of those simple things that adds a lot of cost, and it’s hard to make up for distances. So that’s one of the threats, is making sure that we maintain our OEM assembly plants and actually hopefully attract new ones. And we know that the growth is taking place in the Southern U.S. as well as in Mexico, and those are real threats because there’s significant advantages there.”

Jeffrey Trumble, CEO of Trumble Inc., also participated in the Summit, and reminded attendees about the importance of being agile. 

“We have to be able to react and react quickly to industry changes, product changes, new innovations that are coming from the OEM community, from the consumers themselves, that they’re demanding about product that needs to be manufactured,” Trumble said. “If we cannot react successfully to that, if we’re not agile enough to react to those demands from those that we’re shipping product to, then it can be a major problem. So speed and agility have to be achieved at the manufacturing shop floor level to remain globally competitive…Every tool that you can get your hands on needs to be leveraged, so that the rapid change that’s taking place doesn’t cause your shop to become unstable.”

As the Summit wrapped up, Phillips shared his concerns about the skilled trades shortage, and said that manufacturing needs to be promoted.

“We’re not pushing it anymore at the college level,” he said. “We’re not promoting the auto industry or manufacturing in general as the place to be. It’s an exciting world. I think in my 35 years in the auto industry, I’ve had some bad days, but for the most part it’s a very dynamic organization that gives you a challenge every day. We’ve got to convince young students. We want the brightest engineers, we want the brightest designers to come into automotive, to come into the manufacturing sector. They’re going every which way but that way…We have to ask community colleges to focus better on that.”

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