Line dancing

Every day, Delphi Automotive Systems’ Ellesmere Port service centre receives 25 truckloads of components from all over Europe. Every day, at just two to four hours’ notice, Delphi delivers 33 types of components, sub-systems and modules to the Astra production line in the adjacent Vauxhall plant. And they all have to be in the right […]

Every day, Delphi Automotive Systems’ Ellesmere Port service centre receives 25 truckloads of components from all over Europe. Every day, at just two to four hours’ notice, Delphi delivers 33 types of components, sub-systems and modules to the Astra production line in the adjacent Vauxhall plant. And they all have to be in the right sequence to match the trim, specification and model variant of each car as it comes down the line. It does all this while keeping stock levels down to just three to five days.

The system, known as sequenced in-line supply, or Sils, has been running for the past year. Any failure of Delphi’s system would bring the Vauxhall production line to a halt. But so far, despite transport strikes and equipment breakdowns, Delphi claims never to have been responsible for stopping production.

Delphi plant manager Stan Chadwick says strikes happen at regular intervals like, for example, public holidays in Turkey. Having built up more than 10 years’ experience about how such events affect transport conditions, he sees no reason why they should cause a problem.

‘We have a good indication of the likelihood of a dockers’ strike well in advance, and we simply build up a couple of days’ inventory. If the Channel Tunnel is closed, we’ll re-route the trucks,’ he says.

The most unpredictable variables, in fact, come from the client. ‘A greater challenge is to smoothly increase supply and adapt to increasing vehicle production rates.’

Although Delphi is responsible for some assembly and testing of sub-systems and modules, the role of the Sils facility is mainly a logistics one. Not surprisingly, therefore, IT systems are vital. For the Vauxhall contract, Delphi uses its own software, which evolved from a system developed for the Sils delivery of wire harnesses to Audi, says Chadwick. It translates the schedules received from Vauxhall into orders and production schedules for Delphi’s suppliers which ensure that three weeks later, when the truck arrives to collect goods, the right parts and sub-assemblies are packaged and ready to leave.

‘The IT system must be 100% foolproof with no data or translation errors,’ stresses Chadwick. ‘And people have to understand that they must do exactly what they are asked, nothing more, nothing less.’

The flexibility of the workforce is critical. ‘If Vauxhall suddenly decides to run a Saturday morning shift a decision which is generally taken on a Thursday afternoon then we have to do so too,’ says Chadwick. So he recruits only those people who will fit into this kind of flexible environment.

The Delphi workforce is multi-skilled. ‘If we have an urgent job and a wire harness has to be delivered lineside within 10 minutes, then it is all hands to the deck. Supervisors drive fork-lifts, if necessary.’ There are only two grades of hourly-paid employees, and little job demarcation.

Delphi’s own customer service engineers participate in Vauxhall’s daily quality review meeting. Should a quality problem arise, the service engineers sort it out on the spot without incurring delays through sending defective parts back to their manufacturers. If necessary, they will perform 100% inspection of a part that has caused a problem at the Vauxhall assembly line so that the customer can be confident the same problem will not recur. They will alert Delphi to the defect in order to initiate 100% inspection of all parts before delivery and also to start an investigation of the source of the defect.

Few defects should, however, arise from Delphi’s own equipment. ‘We can’t afford to be satisfied with a 95% uptime of equipment,’ says Tony Horne, UK operations manager. ‘It has to be 100%. Where we see a risk, we eliminate it.’

One example he quotes concerns a machine controlled by a hydraulic pump. If the pump were to fail, it would take the machine out of service. The pump has therefore been twinned so that an operator can simply switch from one pump to another in the event of a failure.

The location of a Sils facility is another vital element in its success. It must be as close to the car assembly plant as possible. Even 10 miles is too far away, says Paul Fleming, UK country director for Delphi Automotive Systems. The main reason is the tight timing of deliveries.

The Delphi plant is located on a supplier park, on the same site as the Vauxhall car factory. Components have just 0.5km to travel from one plant to the other, without travelling on public roads, which would introduce additional uncertainties about timing.

‘Although we have 80 minutes from receipt of Vauxhall’s requirements to delivery of the first part to go in the car (the wire harness), it takes about 40 minutes to receive the signals for all the 40 wire harnesses we will supply in one batch. So much of the time is eroded,’ Fleming says.