By anitabusatto
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  • 26 Apr

Aptiv Logo

Aptiv: Sustainability and Innovation, in motion

The case study of the world biggest interconnection electronic system producer for the automotive market

Aptiv PLC is a global automotive component and mobility technology company headquartered in Dublin, Ireland. Aptiv, that has entered the New York Stock Exchange, is focused on electronics and high-tech software for the new generation of driverless vehicles, on data management, on demand mobility automated transport systems (AMoD) and completely autonomous ride sharing solution development, besides technologies for stock cars.

There seems to be a highly challenging future, inspired by the philosophy of constant improvement as well, which we have discussed with the engineer Marco Morganti, Continuous Improvement Manager in the Italian Aptiv branch based in Turin, and Giuseppe Imbimbo, Operation Manager.

The Turin division is entirely dedicated to the production of connectors for the car industry. Since 2015 KanbanBOX has been the Supply Chain Management tool used for the electronic managing of kanban materials in production and in handling, implemented after a path of Lean Transformation that has committed the entire group since 2008. Giuseppe Imbimbo, formerly group Lean Manager at an European level, is the person who has managed both the Lean Transformation operation and the adoption of KanbanBOX as kanban electronic managing software.

From a Push managing to a Pull one, getting rid of the warehouse, to the introduction of the kanban method: in 2008 the Turin plant was involved in a global Lean Management initiative

A quickened path that has integrated, in time and through many goals, the main kaizen tools, in a fluid and non-fragmented change perspective. Lean Thinking indeed is an organizational standard that requires at first a mentality shift and that must be totally implemented, paying higher attention to behaviors rather than to tools.

'It is exactly like this', tells us Morganti. 'In Aptiv we have decided to experiment the important shift from a push system to a pull one starting from a pilot project, limited to some machineries and in specific departments. We have implemented a traditional Kanban system using paper labels, that matched to a production order to be entrusted to internal suppliers, passing this way from a production managed by big lots to a small lot one. Here's how it works: as in a usual Kanban loop, the generation of a production order is activated by emptying a container in the Supermarket warehouse. After having filled up the kanban container, this is returned to the consumption production that is the items produced are made once again available in the Supermarket. Without receiving a kanban signal, that is a production order, the production would not activate.

A BMW vehicle with Aptiv technology

It must be highlighted how the choice to implement a pull production system is a real challenge for the sector, especially if compared to the worldwide industry average. In fact, a type of product distinguished by high set up costs of plastic molding machineries, by high production volumes and by low prices, usually prefers a managing system based on a push approach in which an integrated vision of the whole production and supply is missing in favor of a segmented vision of the production flow. In other words, a department logic that aims to optimize the single operation is preferred to detriment of the supply global reduction.

In the actual social and economic context, however, speed and flexibility make the productive process management very complex: despite the incentive given by Lean Management theories and by technologies 4.0 advantages to many companies, it is still hard to overcome the Taylor-Ford production system on which they have developed. However, the organizational standard of a lean manufacturing company should be pulled from the market (Pull Supply Chain Strategy) and based on a management upon flows and not on homogeneous work.

Turin Aptiv plant: layout and material flow organization in a lean perspective

In Aptiv company vision, Lean Production has always been a high strategic goal: 'Supply elimination has always been a stated goal and, indeed, thanks to the kanban system the warehouse value, before evaluated approximately 3 million euros, it is now averagely worth 700 thousand euros', proceeds Morganti.

What have been the main advantages of this strict pull management?

Morganti : 'Besides stock reduction, there have been many others. It must be highlighted that efficiency hasn't absolutely reduced, moreover we have obtained:

  • more fluid processes
  • a human resources performance increase
  • processes standardization with consequent increase of reply flexibility to customers' requests
  • company logistical layout improvement.

The kanban supermarket organization in Turin Aptiv plant

Have you noticed any downsides?

Morganti : 'Let's say that the system was as efficient as complex and difficult to coordinate as we were managing about 150 thousand paper kanbans. As it might be understood by numbers, the difficulties were not only present in the high human error occurrence, but also in the excessive use of time and resources employed in managing the system. It was more and more urgent the need to move on to using an electronic kanban system'.

Imbimbo : 'Applying manual kanban was extremely complicate That is why I personally started searching for a more advanced tool in order to manage the system. In the meantime, the plant had become more mature also to face a further technological step'.

Is it this the time when the encounter with KanbanBOX occurred?

Imbimbo : 'Yes, I had known the software through an experiential training course on Lean Management, Officina Snella (Lean Workshop). Switching to the electronic management has been easy and natural. As Marco was saying we carried out a pilot phase, very welcomed by the plant: now all production workers use KanbanBOX'.

Morganti : 'The switching has been easier and leaner than we expected. This is, in my opinion, the beauty of this software: KanbanBOX is immediate, visual, simple to implement (implementing it took only 3 months), to understand and to use. All this has great value: a correct implementation requires in fact not only the right dose of discipline, but also and especially a simple tool. This is proved by the speed with which also new resources, sometimes with any previous experience in lean environment, learn to use it!'.

So, you haven't found any difficulties with the web software implementation, is that right?

Morganti : 'I'll say something unpopular: difficulties, if there are any, are always mentality based, they never belong to the software. People often tend to blame their own errors to technology, while the truth is that this - simply- raises hidden problems, that perhaps one would have wanted to ignore. However, all these difficulties can be overcome by working on the human capital, also thanks to the KanbanBOX assistance support: this is shown by the fact that nobody would ever think to get back to the previous manual managing system, nowadays so obsolete!'.

That results in the paradox by which to see the problem means to generate the problem. Viceversa, the use of an electronic system allows uncovering those hidden problems in a manual managing system

What are the concrete advantages obtained by using KanbanBOX?

Imbimbo : 'Warehouse managing logistical and production organization advantages. Nowadays we only produce upon orders. KanbanBOX moreover provides useful information about the system maintenance itself and about the internal warehouse dimensioning: no more hand calculations!'.

Morganti : 'I confirm that, thanks to KanbanBOX the lean management of the production process has got considerably lower costs: it is sufficient to consider that resources used in order to maintain the process decreased from nine to six after the introduction of the e-kanban, recovering this way three resources for higher added value activities. The main improvement given by e-kanban is that everything becomes centralized. The planning department directly manages the orders and the software provides a complete report on the orders placed in production, on the sequence and on the delays'.

Kanban organized materials in Turin Aptiv plant assembling line Supermarket

How are the orders managed?

Morganti : 'In Aptiv we use two kanban system applications: one for production, so that the latter can always be in line with customers' requests, and one for the material handling, for the standardization of the internal logistics and of picking paths'.

Briefly, the introduction of products in production is not anticipated in relation to orders and production is set by phases downline of the production process. In this system, each department of the chain sees the downline department as a customer and the upline department as a supplier. In Aptiv, the planning department manages the customers’ orders by organizing them in single cells of the assembling department made of 18 machines. Each of them has got a sufficient supply of components to cover one working hour. The order pulls the production cell by cell and, thanks to the e-kanban system, creates the least possible supply number, allowing optimizing the total crossing time. Material consumption in the kanban Supermarket on the assembling line creates an order to the plastic department, in charged to produce the components intended to be assembled.

Morganti : 'Emptying the kanban material in the assembling department, and the following replenishment request, become a production order, visible on the KanbanBOX electronic board - continues Morganti - in a sort of system that self generates and self sets, without risking losing labels and, instead, giving visibility on the carried out work and on the one still to be done. Besides leveling the workload within departments, we have registered also a considerable advantage on workers dedicated to logistics and material picking. Material moving occurs, indeed, only after the effective consumption, that is always the same and predictable in time: activities on warehouse workers are spread during the entire working shift, standardizing their working cycle and reducing the physical fatigue'.

Imbimbo : 'In 2015 we introduced also the kanban for leveling the workload, known as Heijunka. An absolute innovation, so much that the module was made specifically for us by your developers. This is another strength of this software: its customization possibility thanks to the development of real and proper added tools. This ability to understand, interpret and solve our needs is the added value of KanbanBOX, that derives directly from people that are behind the product: industrial engineer with a long-time experience in Lean Manufacturing, that therefore know application sectors and problems within companies'.

Connectors made by Aptiv in the Turin plant and the KanbanBOX board consulted on tablets in production

Nowadays, in order to improve the system and to remove all the human error effect, due to high moving material volumes, Aptiv is developing in partnership with KanbanBOX a project in an Industry 4.0 perspective that uses radio frequency RFID Tag reading technology, in order to eliminate hardware reading devices for kanban labels. The project plans the installation of way throughs for Tag reading for fixed and moving stations on machines, in departments, and in the warehouse, also by involving some customers.

The combination of the electronic kanban and the RFID technology is able to optimize the material Pull management and the replenishment of the Supermarket, getting to supply and flow completed automation and eliminating paper labels. The RFID identification system, indeed, opens new perspectives on automation techniques and, besides the complete and real time material flow visibility, it allows planning and commanding processes with precision and efficiency, achieving a complete automation!

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