Managing complexity, a major cost driver in automotive seating

With ever-increasing numbers of variants to produce, suppliers can better control manufacturing processes and profitability through greater flexibility in the cutting room.

To achieve profitable growth, automotive suppliers must overcome the bottom-line impact of rising costs. Although expenditures for electronic content continue to climb, the three biggest cost drivers in vehicle production remain research and development, raw materials and labor, with raw materials accounting for nearly half of manufacturing costs. With little control over the cost of labor and materials, automotive suppliers focus mainly on productivity and efficiency improvements across their operations to control manufacturing costs.


Widening consumer choices, increasing manufacturing complexity

For manufacturers of automotive seating systems, variant-driven complexity only compounds cost management issues. Individualization of consumer goods has led to sustained demand for low-volume production runs of highly diversifiable products. The enduring appeal of personalized vehicle interiors requires seating manufacturers to manage production line changeovers with increasing frequency.

The implications of growing product variety in the automotive industry supply chain include more variants, greater manufacturing complexity, higher labor costs, increased consumption of upholstery materials, and losses attributable to scrap and waste. Manufacturing small series of seat sets and interior components profitably remains a challenge for suppliers.

Achieving manufacturing agility through batch process optimization

Steady increases in the number of variants that seating and interior suppliers must manage have brought about a clear need for greater manufacturing base flexibility. This is especially important in the area of process agility.

In the fabric cutting room, digitalization and automation of end-to-end manufacturing processes offer real and immediate benefits to suppliers, allowing them to absorb variability in demand and satisfy new requirements more quickly. In particular, advanced-technology digital fabric-cutting equipment offers the technical capabilities and production efficiency for batch process optimization and improved material consumption.

The cost-cutting efficiency of manufacturing base flexibility

Advanced-technology digital fabric-cutting equipment offers unparalleled flexibility in the management of fabric cutting for multiple seating programs, especially small series and limited editions. By managing fabric cutting execution with a fully digital process, changeovers can be carried out quickly, without the need to retool.

The nesting of cut parts can furthermore be maximized by cutting identical parts for multiple programs in a single run. This optimization of material usage is enabled by the powerful algorithms of nesting software. The enhanced precision of digital cutting technology makes it possible to substantially reduce waste and labor through improved production efficiency, as well as achieve significant material savings. Superior-performance parts and consumables increase cutting time considerably, keeping maintenance and repairs to a minimum. With fewer spare parts to change, fewer stoppages are necessary, resulting in several more hours of machine availability every month. 

Zero-buffer cutting for automotive upholstery materials

To achieve even greater material savings, it is possible to invest in state-of-the-art fabric cutting equipment enabling zero-buffer cutting. VectorAutomotive iP6 & iP9 are the first solutions on the market to combine breakthrough cutting innovation with an optimized software application and specially designed blades and sharpening belts to achieve zero-buffer cutting.

For maximum manufacturing flexibility at the lowest possible cost per cut part, the VectorAutomotive iP range has been tested and successfully demonstrated to cut the following materials with little or no buffer between parts:

  • 34 plies of 2mm-thick woven foam-backed material
  • 20 plies of 2mm- to 3mm-thick foam-backed vinyl
  • 15 plies of 4mm-thick foam-backed vinyl
  • 10 plies of Alcantara

A mere 1 mm reduction in buffer between cut parts can translate into a 1% reduction in automotive upholstery and cutting film, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in material savings. A plant using 40,000 meters of fabric per month can save up to 400 meters of material, which adds up to 4,800 meters annually. The more material a plant saves, the greater the cost savings. With an average cost of $27 per meter, a 1% reduction in material can lead to $128, 800 in cost savings.

More flexible batch production for greater cost control

The impact of complexity on automotive manufacturing cost structures is not to be underestimated. Because automotive seating system suppliers must also contend with fluctuations in commodity pricing and the cost of labor, control over costs stemming from batch production can greatly influence profitability. Investing in advanced-technology digital fabric-cutting equipment in the cutting room directly contributes to batch process optimization while reducing labor, maintenance and material costs, as well as minimizing waste. Acquisition of the zero-buffer cutting capability can furthermore empower automotive seating system suppliers to lower their manufacturing costs at will. 

Find out more about how to drive down cutting room costs to stay ahead by reading our e-guide.