Imagine a banquet hall, the sort of place where a wedding reception might be held.
There are long tables set up. They take up most of the space in the hall.
Row upon row of components of disassembled seats, each organized and curated at the Adient facility in Plymouth, Michigan (Images: Adient).
But rather than place settings for a meal, there, arranged as carefully as a series of knives, forks, spoons, plates and glasses, are components—wiring harnesses, stamped assemblies, motors, pads, fabrics, etc. What is completely different from the celebratory scenario is the fact that behind each place there is a printed board providing information about what the thing is, where it came from, and stats describing various aspects of the object(s).
As Todd Janke explains as we walk through this facility in Plymouth, Michigan, this is part of the engineering analysis work being performed at Adient, one of the leading seating manufacturers in the world. Yes, the company produces the metal, foam, fabric, trim, etc. for the seats. The elements that are carefully categorized and laid out in the room. Those components that the company doesn’t produce are also there.
In all, there are seats from 38 vehicles that have been disassembled and cataloged. As you walk from one end of the room to another you pass every element that could be, given the right tools (and know-how) reassembled into a functioning seat. The seats that are dissected are both those made by Adient as well as some from its competitors.
So why are all of the seats there? Why does this room exist?
Janke’s title gives a clue: He is Adient’s vice president of Value Analysis/Value Engineering Seating Americas.
As Lawrence D. Miles, the father of VA/VE, wrote in his Techniques of Value Analysis and Engineering (1961), “Value analysis is a problem-solving system implemented by the use of a specific set of techniques, a body of knowledge, and a group of learned skills. It is an organized creative approach that has for its purpose the efficient identification of unnecessary cost, i.e., cost that provides neither quality nor use nor life nor appearance nor customer features. When applied to products, this approach assists in the orderly utilization of better approaches, alternative materials, newer processes and abilities of specialized suppliers. It focuses engineering, manufacturing, and purchasing attention on one objective—equivalent performance for lower cost.”
When you see one frame next to another, one frame from one vehicle and one frame from another, you get a sense of context: how things are done, how things are constructed, how things might be made better.
In other words, the objective of the room is to have visual confirmation of what is in each and every one of these seats and actual data regarding characteristics including performance and cost.
Janke says that the room is not only used by Adient designers and engineers, as they work toward developing new seats for vehicles, but also by Adient customers, who are able to workshop seating systems.
An Array pf Seating Components
There are seats from economy vehicles in pieces. Seats from high-end vehicles. Cars. Trucks. Crossovers. SUVs.
There are different types of foam. Different types of fabric. Different types of metal. Some of the metal is powder coated. Some of the metal is bare. There are different types and sizes of mats for heating. There are different types of adjustment devices. And on and on.
It is interesting to see the array of components. But it is more than that: It provides a means by which those who are performing the analysis can see where there is value—and where there isn’t.
Those last few words in the Miles’ quote are key: “equivalent performance for lower cost.”
The approach here is not the cost-down exercise that ends up saving a few cents per vehicle and having the effect of cheapening the result.
No, the approach that Janke and his team are taking is to determine how to get as good as—or better than—in a more cost-effective manner.
It is about value.
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