Optimization of Existing Facilities

In addition to providing practical agile principles for managing projects related to the latest assembly-line technologies in EV manufacturing, GERMANENGINEER.COM also focus on analyzing and rethinking of old, existing manufacturing facilities, known as or legacy systems. These legacy systems, used for many decades by traditional automakers such as GM, Ford, and Chrysler (now Stellantis), are now under scrutiny for potential inefficiencies and obsolescence. The use of these systems in the past provided stability and predictability, but with the passage of time and the advancement of new technologies, many of these systems have become outdated and no longer meet the modern demands of vehicle production. However, their existing infrastructure and location provide a unique opportunity for comprehensive transformation and modernization. Redeveloping old manufacturing sites, known as brownfields1, can save both time and money. The efficiency of brownfield redevelopment is enhanced by often streamlined regulatory and permitting processes compared to the complexities associated with greenfield projects. This results in faster project schedules, which are critical to meeting tight production deadlines.

Many legacy systems can be improved by adopting innovative manufacturing processes that increase efficiency and reduce costs. This applies both to the transformation of legacy facilities to produce battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrids, and to their modernization to continue to produce traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles with innovative assembly-line technologies.

Tesla has been extraordinarily successful in creating innovative manufacturing processes. It completely changed the manual assembly process defined by Henry Ford that has shaped the automotive industry for the past 100 years. Today, Tesla’s highly automated manufacturing processes are a decade ahead of the competition, making Tesla one of the most valuable public companies in the world.2

Building on Tesla’s best practices, GERMANENGINEER.COM is applying practical agile principles, originally developed to manage EV manufacturing projects, to analyze and rethink old and develop new manufacturing processes. Now, these universal practical agile principles can be applied to both project management and process optimization, making it easier for automakers to create multidisciplinary teams that can design efficient and cost-effective manufacturing processes and implement the innovative assembly line technologies that enable them.

1. Small, Cross-functional Teams Working under One Roof

As we know, “an airplane only flies as fast as it was designed to fly,” and similarly, the efficiency of automotive manufacturing processes is directly dependent on the initial design of the vehicle.

The product creation process of legacy systems is often characterized by the separation of vehicle design from its manufacturing processes and equipment. Some automakers may use one contractor for vehicle design, another to design manufacturing processes, and yet another to design production equipment. This approach creates manufacturing constraints and often results in suboptimal manufacturing processes and equipment. Later in the product lifecycle, this limits opportunities for process improvement, often resulting in longer production cycle times and higher costs.

To address these challenges, GERMANENGINEER.COM recommends applying the Practical Agile Principle #1:

  • Cross-functional teams. This principle involves the simultaneous design of the vehicle and the factory where it will be assembled. Integrating the efforts of mechanical engineers, industrial engineers, and automation system designers into a single team facilitates the development of production-optimized simple designs and innovative manufacturing processes.
  • Under one roof. Design, engineering, and manufacturing in one location improves teamwork and encourages spontaneous communication and a dynamic exchange of ideas. It allows engineers to directly observe the manufacturing process, facilitating quick adjustments and product optimization.

2. Simplicity and High Bar

Practical Agile Principle #2 is a powerful tool for identifying, reducing, or eliminating inefficiencies or outdated manufacturing practices:

  • Simplicity. Simplicity of standardized work processes leads to significant improvements in efficiency and productivity, such as reducing waste, increasing flexibility, and improving quality. Most importantly, simplicity makes it easier for employees to understand and engage in their work processes. It supports continuous improvement by encouraging employees to identify inefficiencies and suggest improvements. The simpler the process, the clearer the impact of any change, making it easier to learn from each iteration.
  • High Bar. А common strategy is to raise the bar for standardized work processes on a daily basis. Employees can quickly improve themselves by following standardized procedures even more consistently. A disruptive strategy sets the bar extremely high, creating the need to find radically new ways of doing things. For example, Elon Musk’s directive to produce 20 million cars a year pushes Tesla employees to develop entirely new manufacturing processes. This strategy ensures that the company will break away from existing standardized procedures and that every employee will be motivated to experiment and develop new, disruptive practices.

3. Early and Continuous Risk Mitigation

The Practical Agile Principle #3 also plays a key role in manufacturing process management, helping to identify and mitigate production bottlenecks, safety, stability, and quality of operations.

Given the significant risk in traditional vehicle manufacturing that any failure in the sequential production flow can cause an entire assembly line to stop, it’s important to address technical failures, logistical errors, material defects, and obvious and hidden bottlenecks that can limit production capabilities.  

Active participation in risk reduction processes encourages employees to search for and implement advanced technologies and new production approaches. The aim is to ensure greater safety, stability and quality in production processes. Innovations may include the development and use of redundant systems and the creation of parallel processes for critical production steps.

Hidden defects in the manufacturing process can result in defective vehicles reaching the consumer. Not only does this jeopardize consumer safety, but it can also have a significant financial impact and damage the manufacturer’s reputation. It is therefore essential to have early detection and monitoring systems in place within the manufacturing processes to identify and correct any problems in a timely manner.

Systematic monitoring of production parameters and strict adherence to quality and safety standards not only reduce the risk of production failures, but also improve the quality of the final product. Continuous risk management ensures that any potential problems are identified and addressed at the earliest possible stage, preventing potential negative consequences for customers and the company’s reputation.

4. Pivot to a Simpler Approach

It should be noted that while early and continuous risk mitigation addresses all risks, it is appropriate to implement redundant systems, parallel processes, and other risk avoidance strategies only for critical production steps. It is not cost effective to eliminate all risks.

For all other risks, it is simply a matter of making sure that people notice a problem in the production process immediately (see Practical Agile Principle #4). That’s why it’s so important to design manufacturing processes that are simple and transparent, so that all employees can easily identify when the line is interrupted or stopped. This design philosophy aims to facilitate quick response and problem solving, minimize downtime and maintain efficiency. For example, the use of visual indicators, such as color-coded lights and clear audible alarms, lets workers know the operating status immediately. Streamlined control panels that display only essential information and open floor plans also contribute to this transparency.

In addition, building a culture of awareness and accountability among employees is a key element of risk management. Employees are actively involved in identifying and solving problems, contributing to the company’s sustainability and innovation. Managers encourage the involvement of each employee in the process of improving operations.

  1. Brownfields, as opposed to greenfields, which are undeveloped land, refer to previously developed sites. These sites often have existing buildings, roads, and utilities, which can be an advantage over greenfield development, which requires extensive groundwork. ↩︎
  2. List of public corporations by market capitalization retrieved 4/11/24. ↩︎






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