As several major automakers worldwide accelerate their product development cycle internally by using CATIA V5 software, suppliers who don't adapt are at risk of losing business. This is according to Mark Ratliff, president and CEO of Virtual Services, Inc., who discussed this major technology shift at the COE 2004 Industry Workshop- Automotive at the Hyatt Regency, Dearborn today.

Automakers, including DaimlerChrysler, Ford, Honda and Toyota, are weaving CATIA V5 -- an advanced process-simulation technology -- into their daily product development culture. As a result, a new business model is evolving that yields accelerated product development cycles with drastically reduced effort. Consumers stand to benefit by having new vehicles introduced faster, a larger variety to choose from and higher quality vehicles.

"A major technology shift is quietly underway within the global automotive market that requires a transition over the next several months from various computer aided design (CAD) software systems to CATIA V5," Ratliff said. "This shift is due to several technology breakthroughs achieved by the CATIA V5 software. Suppliers who are unaware of this global trend are critically at risk of missing significant opportunities and may be jeopardizing the long- term viability of their company."

Although technology changeovers occur every five to 10 years, none have ever been as widespread or as deeply entrenched as this one, Ratliff said.

According to Mike Fecek, Virtual Services vice president of services, "Automakers are implementing CATIA V5 technology because of its ability to drastically reduce product development costs, significantly reduce timing and improve overall product quality. Their approach is to implement CATIA V5 strategically rather than just tactically. Strategic implementation means assessing the entire product development process and integrating the CATIA V5 technology into key value-driven processes. This is where Virtual Services excels."

For example, Grand Rapids, Mich. tooling supplier Northwest Tool and Die - which partnered with Virtual Services for strategic technology support - has implemented a new business model and uses CATIA V5 technology from the shop floor to the president. Its die makers can now manage four programs simultaneously instead of just one, Fecek said. In addition, Northwest Tool and Die has not only reduced its overall program timing from 38 weeks to 28 weeks, but also reduced hourly workweeks from 55 hours to 45 hours.