Small Parts, Big ImplicationsFri, 09/01/2017 - 15:20
Parts supplied to OEMs must meet the same quality standards to be sold under the vehicle’s branding and the importance of a small part cannot be underestimated. As consumers demand more comfortable vehicles, Daniel Romero, Americas Automotive Division Manager of Schunk Electro Carbón, says that even Tier 4 or 5 suppliers have to ensure they meet rising expectations.
Schunk Electro Carbón, a subsidiary of the German Schunk Group, is innovating based on its customers’ needs. “Companies are introducing much more comfort to their vehicles, especially Asian players,” says Romero. “The growth opportunity with Asian companies is immense.” The company has already established a relationship with Denso, one of Toyota’s main suppliers, and Schunk Electro Carbón has been recognized as the best carbon-brush manufacturer within the entire Schunk Group. Schunk Electro Carbón produces carbon brushes for all electric motors in the vehicle. Brushes are the connecting part that transmit electrical current from a static to a rotating part in a motor or generator, so without them there would be no movement in an array of components in the vehicle, including the engine itself.
“Our customers set minimum requirements for us to meet. Then we develop products with raw materials of several grain sizes and different specifications to surpass their expectations,” explains Romero. Motor brushes are manufactured using a sintering process in which metal powder is compacted and sintered below its melting point. This creates components with defined shapes and high strength as well as improved electric and thermal conductivity. Depending on the quality of the powder mix, brushes can have better conductivity and higher wear resistance, which is where Schunk Electro Carbón can innovate to make its products more competitive. “A clear example is our work for start-stop motors,” says Romero. “These brushes require more energy and voltage to function while remaining operational for at least 300,000 cycles.”
The company has built strong relationships in the original equipment segment thanks to its hard-wearing components and also has presence in the aftermarket. Schunk is known in this segment by the ELCA brand which represents approximately 20 percent of its automotive sales. In Mexico, the company traditionally manufactured only original equipment components but its constant growth in the aftermarket led Romero to delve into manufacturing operations that could also target this segment.
For its original equipment operations, Schunk Electro Carbón sources its raw materials from its sister company in Austria, including the powder mix. But doing the same for aftermarket components would be too expensive. “The standards are different in the aftermarket, so companies cannot justify the investment in manufacturing components with the same materials as original equipment,” Romero says. “Instead, we found a way to source the powder mix locally from one of our sister companies in the US without compromising our quality standards. Now, we receive a premixed powder that we finish mixing in our Mexican plant. This has helped us reduce our logistics and manufacturing costs by 40 percent.” Romero says that part of Schunk Electro Carbons’ success has been its customeroriented approach, which has guided its manufacturing and technological development process. The company has a zero-defect policy and a goal to solve all customers’ requirements within 24 hours. Schunk Electro Carbón is also constantly innovating its product line and working hand in hand with its customers through simultaneous engineering processes to offer adequate solutions for all motor applications.
The company’s strategies have proven successful with a compound annual growth rate of almost 5 percent in sales since 2012. “Even with the uncertainty that plagued the second half of 2016, we managed to increase sales nearly 5 percent that year.” Regarding production, the company has increased its productivity each year by 10 percent since 2014 thanks to the implementation of lean manufacturing and best practices, preventive maintenance operations and visual factory concepts. “Our good results have helped us reach double-digit growth in our EBIT in 2016. For 2017, we forecast almost 10 percent growth in sales, maintaining our EBIT in double-digits,” Romero says.