Automotive Tooling Industry: Where To From Here?

Guest Blog: Laurie Harbour
President and CEO, Harbour Results, Inc. 

In 2016 the U.S. manufacturing industry was relatively stable with overall production slightly up from previous years. Specifically, the automotive tool and die industry was predicted to be busy with forecasted tooling spend on the rise. However, taking a closer look, the year proved to be a bit more challenging. Data collected through the Harbour Results’ Harbour IQ pulse survey (a business intelligence tool for performance, financial, operational, trend and market data), which was completed by more than 100 tool shops globally in the second quarter of 2016, has shown that capacity reached a low of 81 percent among die shops in late 2015 and early 2016, but was expected to rebound to 78 and 86 percent respectively by year end.

So what caused the slow down?
  1. Program delays—on average, just over 20 percent of vehicle launches were delayed in 2015 and 2016. 
  2. Work on hold—in early 2016, 18 percent of all work that had been awarded was on hold for reasons outside the tooling shops.
Looking forward, the U.S. automotive industry is predicted to maintain vehicle sales at or near 17.4 million units in 2017. However, for the tool and die industry it is important to note the industry is expected to source tooling to support 70 new vehicle launches, which is more than any other year between 2014-2022. Tooling spend for 2017 is expected to be $13.7 billion while 2018 is expected to be $10.7 billion.

Delivering Operational Excellence
Today, tool and die making is no longer an art, but a manufacturing process. Yes, it is true that each die is unique, but the process to build it should be standard and repeatable. A shop owner’s goal should be to reduce all unnecessary activity and the key to that is collecting and analyzing the right data. Easier said than done, we know.

The best die shops are investing in technology to help them better understand what is happening on the shop floor. Tools such as enterprise resource planning (ERP) software and machine monitoring systems can assist in gathering data points and tracking key trends over time (utilization and efficiency) to help better make informed decisions impacting the shop.

Harbour Results has coined the phrase—Operational Holy Grail—which has three key functions that are critical for effectively aligning a business:
  1. Resource Monitoring
  2. Capacity and Demand Planning
  3. Production Scheduling
Staying focused on these three areas, and collecting and analyzing the data and information throughout the shop, owners will be better equipped to make decisions and constantly adjust to drive improved efficiency and reduce lead time.

2017 and Beyond
To be successful in the automotive industry, tool and die shops must look for opportunities to create a competitive advantage. With that in mind, the following are three key areas of focus (beyond operational excellence) that should be a priority for shop owners.
  1. Understand your customer—Who are they? What’s going on in their industry? What is their product plan? What is available to my shop in the market? Gathering customer and market data gives you a leg up on the competition. It will help you develop a solid sales strategy and pursue profitable business for your company. 
  2. Focus on your niche—What is your why? If you can focus in on why customers should do business with you and what makes you unique, it will create a barrier so that other shops can’t infringe on your business. 
  3. Invest smartly—Invest with a purpose; to improve your agility, grow in other regions, create a sales process or strengthen your aging workforce. Understand what your company’s pain points are and look to invest to make improvements. 
Hear more from Laurie at PMA’s Metal Stamping Technology and Tool & Die Conference, December 6-7, 2016 in Chicago, IL. 


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