Phase Three

By Baselinemag  |  Posted 2002-11-01 Print this article Print

Milestones along General Motors' route to becoming the first all-digital automaker.

Phase Three
Months 2 to 6: Modeling
Data Types: Surface models, 3-D solid models of body, interior and engineering components, draft engineering
Storage Requirement: 150 GB

At this point, engineers start to develop full-blown proposals on how to support the design. That's where GM's database starts to pay off. Libraries of the subsystems of many of GM's existing vehicles, such as power trains, chassis architectures and suspension systems, are almost instantly available through TeamCenter. They can be copied into the proposed designs and tweaked by keyboard as needed.

It's in this second stage of styling that GM usually begins to bring in key outside suppliers—like interior providers Intier Automotive, Johnson Controls Inc. and Lear. Interior design used to be a closely held element of product engineering at GM. The automaker maintained a "shadow engineering" organization that oversaw the suppliers' work. Suppliers working on product development were often required to do that work on site at GM.

Now, most of GM's most important suppliers work on a bit of a longer leash—albeit one with an operational limit of a little over 30 miles. A two-billion-bits-per-second network called GigaMAN links GM to its top suppliers. This allows them to work out of their own studios—and GM engineers to virtually pop in and check their work on their own TeamCenter servers, without leaving a GM campus.

"There's no need for [carmakers] to replicate what we do within their own companies. Now [GM is] tapping into our subject expertise," says John Waraniak, director of E-Speed product development at Johnson Controls. Johnson makes seats, instrument panels and other interior components for many GM cars and trucks, and is acting as the lead interior integrator on the new Pontiac GTO, among other projects. Johnson, in turn, works with hundreds of other suppliers on GM's behalf—with Philips to develop DVD players and video screens for designs, for example.

With three concept vehicles fully modeled "in math," the next step is to actually build models out of tangible materials. This is the first time that sheet metal gets stamped—and the first time designers and engineers can actually lay hands on their work. The three cars are then presented in preliminary "clinics"—consumer focus groups. The physical concept cars also are used to identify any engineering and styling issues with the designs.

At this point, the bill of materials becomes a critical planning tool. Managers can use the BOM for each concept vehicle to help analyze its financial viability, using the proposed parts list to get an idea of what the manufacturing costs of each vehicle will be. Based on customer and management feedback, GM product line execs pick a final concept for "styling freeze," and a plan for getting it to production.


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