Interior supplier Lear is implementing the advantage of employing a product and process development approach to creating innovative products for its customers. By Kermit Whitfield, Senior Associate Editor,  Automotive Design and Production

When you think of the service economy, it probably involves something like the purchase of a value meal at McDonald's, not the development of automotive components. But as automakers have increasingly outsourced not only parts but the engineering skills necessary to develop those parts, some suppliers have begun to provide a full line of development services and to structure their organizations around their new, expanded missions. Case in point: Lear Corporation (Southfield, MI). Three years ago Lear instituted a product development methodology called "People-Vehicle-Interface," (PVI). Lear used PVI as a framework around which it re-focused its business strategy and streamlined product development. Patrick Murray, vp of Lear's technology division: "Over the past few years we have grown from a manufacturing-minded company to a service-minded company. PVI represents a fundamentally huge shift for us from being primarily a manufacturer to providing an entire line of services."

the 'Flip Pack' two-layered switch panel the 'Flip Pack' two-layered switch panel Lear Corp. used its People-Vehicle-Interface (PVI) method to develop the "Flip Pack" two-layered switch panel, which keeps frequently used controls on top and hides less-used switches below. The company hopes to sell this independently developed innovation to several different automakers.

Six Steps. PVI consists of six steps: consumer research, industrial design and visualization, engineering, technical analysis, manufacturing process development and validation. Murray says, "Before instituting PVI, we did not think in terms of total product development on every project, both advanced and production, now we do." This mindset has had a profound effect on Lear's internal organization. Lear has done away with the vertical or "chimney" management structure and mixed disciplines together. "There is no longer an engineering department at Lear, or an industrial design studio," says Murray, "We don't have independent groups, we have initiatives where engineers, industrial designers and market researchers work together."

This structure has lead to a less linear development process with more creative give-and-take. And the integral role of consumer research has helped to eliminate themes with no practical application and to focus efforts on customer-driven initiatives. One such initiative is the new "Flip Pack": a hinged, two-tiered armrest switch panel. Lear learned that its seat adjustment controls were often hard to manipulate because of the narrow gap between the seat and the door. And since the controls were hidden from view, drivers could not make a visual check of which seat adjustment they wanted to engage. So a Lear team came up with the Flip Pack, which moves the seat adjustment switches up to the armrest where they are easy to see and access, while reducing clutter by placing them on a second, hidden layer.

Expert Analysis

The Global Market for Automotive Interiors

With 160 pages, 8 tables and more than 40 figures the report provides busy executives with a complete overview of key company developments and strategies, new technical advances and market shares within the interiors market.

Supplier relationship tables provide hard to find data on who supplies whom for the automotive interiors sector. The last section of the report includes company profiles on the major automotive interior players including Faurecia, JCI, Lear, Magna and Collins and Aikman.

 

Murray says that the presence of diverse disciplines on the same team has also lead to more creative solutions to manufacturing problems. He cites a project in India that needed to cost-effectively mold interior panels for an upcoming vehicle program. The team in charge couldn't apply traditional methods because of a lack of consistent electrical power, so they developed a low-tech hydro-molding machine that doesn't rely on electricity. It is compact (about the size of a desk), flexible and only cost the company about $8000. "The input of creative design, engineering and tech analysis people made that happen," says Murray.

A bigger test of PVI's effectiveness will come next year, when the first major vehicle programs to be developed fully under the new regime will hit the market.