Automakers Work With Outsiders to Reduce Repair Costs

Anyone even slightly familiar with lean knows the importance of eliminating silos and having departments work together. One area where this is valuable is product design. Engineers and product designers should work with production people when creating new products so they appreciate how their designs may make products easier or harder to manufacturer.

A recent article on CNN.com talked about an interesting variation on this approach: auto designers working not just with other departments in their own company, but also working with insurance companies so they design cars that are less expensive to repair.

Insurance companies are concerned that too many cars damaged in accidents have to be “totaled” because they are too costly to repair, even if only one part of the car is damaged.

Most major car companies are taking this collaborative approach, at least to some extent. The article talks about Ford’s new $650,000 Paint and Body Technology Center in Inkster, Michigan, which was opened partly as the result of design work on the 2009 F-150 pick-up truck.

During the vehicle's early development period, these engineers realized that new materials -- including ultra-high-strength steel and boron -- helped make the new truck safer, but also could make it more expensive to repair after a collision.

"The extensive use of advanced technologies and materials in the 2009 F-150 required us to develop new, specific procedures and repair recommendations," said Gerry Bonanni, Ford's collision repair senior engineer.

So, Ford engineers designed and developed new front and rear-frame-section kits -- which means one single section of the frame can now be repaired / replaced after a crash, instead of having to replace the entire frame.

"Partial-frame repairs cost at least $2,000 less than full-frame replacements," says Bonanni -- and will prevent some vehicles from being "totaled," which would have previously been the case under repair laws in some states.

Has your company ever been involved in this kind of collaborative approach with outsiders? Share your experience by posting a comment.

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