When the replacement for the Nissan Almera
enters UK production in 2000, it will have been developed 25 per cent faster than the
current Primera. Nissan’s pioneering three-year £3 million Cogent project has played a
major part in helping accelerate the new car’s development. "Design and development
of a product account for at least 80 per cent of cost, quality and performance," says
Ian Milburn, deputy managing director of Nissan’s European Technology Centre (NETC) at
Cranfield. "Our design and development function depends on suppliers who provide at
least 70 per cent of the components of a vehicle, so we must work with them to remain
competitive in 2000."

In recognition of this and with support
from the Land Transport Sector of the Innovative Manufacturing Initiative, Nissan launched
its own programme in 1995 aimed at achieving a fundamental change in the approach to
design and sub-assemblies and to synchronise suppliers’ and customer product development
programmes. Code-named Cogent, it represents a tripartite initiative between NETC,
Cranfield University and 80 of its suppliers. Nearly 80 per cent of the contribution to
the programme come from industry.

Since the first Cogent workshop opened in
January 1996, Nissan has been measuring Cogent suppliers’ performance in quality, cost and
delivery in drawings, trial parts and tests while comparing it to non-Cogent suppliers.

The early Cogent participants have achieved
an annual average improvement in their design and development performance of 10.3 per cent
compared to the 7 per cent performance of all Nissan suppliers. While the improvement in
just two short years is remarkable, the results also emphasise just how the underlying
changes to Nissan’s internal processes have helped all suppliers to significantly improve
performance. One of the best performing suppliers within the Cogent initiative is Collins
& Aikman Plastics (UK) Ltd (formerly Kigass Engineering Ltd until early 1998). Since
first committing to Cogent in June 1996, the plastics injection moulder has made excellent
progress in terms of improving their design and development performance by 32 per cent.
Congratulating Collins & Aikman Plastics on receiving a Cogent award, Andy Palmer,
NETC’s general manger of vehicle design and test, explained that while product development
accounted for five 5 per cent of total vehicle budget, it effectively dictated between
70-80 per cent of production life costs. "If products are badly designed they will be
intrinsically expensive, no matter how many are made or how hard your purchasing
department puts the squeeze on you. If a designer makes a product that is hard to
assemble, quality will inevitably suffer. Yes, you can add retrospective Japanese ‘poke
yoke’ countermeasures but this increases cost and reduces plant capacity."

While the Cogent process is proving a clear
success amongst the first-tier suppliers, the second- and third-tiers have been largely
unsupported in terms of improving their design and development capabilities. As a separate
follow-on from Cogent, the DTI are supporting Cranfield University, Cernes &
Associates and the SMMT Industry Forum in a three-year project £400,000 project designed
to reach out to small and medium-sized firms who want to improve their co-development
capability. Armed with a New Product Development Toolkit, the project team will work with
participants in order to improve their design and development performance by a target 20
per cent. Through the SMMT Industry Forum, the processes will be made available to the
rest of the UK automotive supply base, as Dr Steve Evans at Cranfield University explains:
"It seems logical to us that the lessons learned from the Cogent programme in
improving first-tier suppliers’ design and development can be of significant benefit to
the small and medium size firms operating in the lower tiers. The tools we have seen used
successfully will help those suppliers achieve the next competitive advantage in product
development and impact on quality, cost, delivery and product attractiveness."

For further information on Cogent,
contact Dr Steve Evans at Cranfield University, +44 (0)1234 754108.

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