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Lorie Russo explains how this giant of a company gives auto makers the choices they need to turn out premium products.

Comau Pico is the industry leader in industrial automation with offices in the United States, Canada, Italy, England, Germany, Mexico, South America, South Africa and India. Comau Pico and its affiliated companies make up a global organization offering a wide range of services and capabilities unequaled in the industry. “We believe the only way to stay ahead of the competition and satisfy our customers is to consistently challenge ourselves to present cost-effective innovative solutions,” says Roger Buchanan, director of marketing and new business development. As a result, Comau Pico has developed many advanced manufacturing systems, such as laser applications in cutting and welding, flexible and reusable welding and assembly systems, and innovative manufacturing processes to meet customers’ changing requirements. Comau Pico has the worldwide resources to make good on its promise. The company employs 3,200 people in its North American operations (based in Southfield, Mich.), with 1,000 design and engineering personnel. The company’s manufacturing floor space includes more than 2.3 million square feet in North America and another 1.2 million square feet in the rest of the world.

Its customer list includes Volkswagen, Ford, DaimlerChrysler, General Motors, Renault and Fiat. Total revenues for Comau Pico are $950 million in the NAFTA operations and another $1 billion in the rest of the world. Along with parent company Comau Systems, Comau Pico offers services in engineering, automotive body assembly, painting systems, robotics, materials handling, mechanical assembly systems, plastics and maintenance services worldwide.

Recent changes at Comau Pico have helped position it for global opportunities. Pico (standing for the company’s original name Progressive Industries Co.) was acquired a year and a half ago by Comau Systems, an Italy-based manufacturer, says Buchanan.

That makes for a lot of customers to please, and Comau Pico is ready to meet the challenge. Founded by the Wisne family in 1939 at the outset of World War II as a simple machine shop, Comau Pico has changed as the auto industry has – and has witnessed staggering growth as a result.

“There’s been a change in how our customers manage their business,” says Buchanan, referring to the desire of more and more OEMs to outsource non-core activities. From that simple machine shop to a full-service supplier of complex body assembly systems, Comau Pico is positioned as an integral part of the OEM’s outsourcing strategy. Suppliers like Comau Pico have made a major transformation to develop the internal infrastructure to absorb these non-core activities. Project management, dedicated design and process teams, quality and risk assessment capability, simulation software and customer specific design software are just a few of the investments required to respond to the needs of the OEMs.

Industry Firsts
Three-dimensional computer aided design has been the enabler in reducing manufacturing costs. Pipe, wire, and cable tray fabrication were customized at the final integration site for every system. With three-dimensional models to work with, these activities are now pre-engineered, manufactured and delivered to the integration site before work begins. Before delivery to the customer, systems are run through 9,000 cycles to eliminate problems before final installation. Comau Pico has 11 fully equiped machine shops on wheels which travel from site to site to provide installation support.

To ensure on-time delivery, Comau Pico builds its own control panels and weld guns. Entire programs were dependent on the delivery of these components to meet scheduling requirements. Now the company is in control of the process.

Comau Pico’s climate of open exchange and of fostering new creative ideas has resulted in a number of “firsts.” These include implementing bolt torque standards and torque auditing techniques, which since have been adopted as North American Automotive Metric Standards. The company also participated in the reliability and maintainability (R&M) visioning committee and co-authored the SAE guidelines book. In addition, Comau Pico was the only manufacturer to participate in the 1999 rewrite of the SAE guidelines book. The company has been gathering voice-of-the-customer data since 1991. In 36 surveys conducted in 1998, says Buchanan, most respondents scored Comau Pico between eight and nine – nine being the highest mark – when asked if they were “very satisfied” with Comau Pico’s products and services.

In the way of innovation, Comau Pico has developed a family of flexible framing systems that are used in 70 percent of the body shops worldwide. These systems were developed in response to the industry demand for highly flexible and reusable machines. The reduction of cost from initial investment through the extended life of the system must also be dealt with to be successful in a competitive market. Everything is analyzed for the most cost-effective solution without compromising quality. The development of innovative standard solutions in part transfer, flexible welding cells, robotic applications and laser applications will provide cost reductions opportunities for systems of the future.

Well-oiled Business
Comau Pico’s business units include Body Welding and Assembly, Die Construction, Powertrain Systems (which handle metal cutting and mechanical assembly and testing) and maintenance services. Ninety-two percent of all activities are done in house. Process and design are driven by customer-dedicated computer software systems.

Through simulation software, department engineers can get an accurate prediction of system performance, increasing productivity and efficiency, and optimizing tool investment. Comau Pico’s manufacturing capabilities are the benchmark of the industry for lean manufacturing processes, final assembly and system integration. At Autodie International, the ability to try out production dies in a simulated production environment using a two-ton and four-ton mechanical press with a 70-inch-wide decoiler is another example of the many arms of Comau Pico. The Powertrain Systems business unit provides metal-cutting machines, mechanical assembly systems and testing equipment for engines and transmissions.

In welding systems, deliveries of full body shops include the Dodge Durango, Tahoe/Yukon, Jaguar X200 and the Lincoln LS installed in1998 and 1999. Full body shops scheduled for installation in 2001 and 2002 include the 2001 Caravan Voyager, 2001 Thunderbird and the 2002 Jeep Cherokee.

In the Powertrain Systems business unit, Comau Pico provides cylinder head machining, cylinder block machining, transmission housing machining, crankshaft machining, clutch housing machining, transmission assembly and test, engine assembly and test, cylinder head assembly and test and con rod and piston assembly and test. Products and services include machining systems, logistics engineering, process engineering, simo-engineering, co-design, assembly systems, testing systems, life cycle cost and co-management to final product.

Comau Pico’s Powertrain Systems has grown from $90 million in sales in 1998 to a projected sales of $220 million in 2001. The success of this division also reflects Comau Pico’s commitment to research and development, and to being a consistent innovative leader.

For Body Assembly Systems, Comau Pico has furnished 135 automated glass systems to customers and more than 1,750 automated chassis tools, using 20 project managers, 75 designers and more than 100,000 square feet of manufacturing space. Glass systems highlights include manual glass handling with assist, automated glass conveyance, robotic prime and urethane application, robotic glass insertion, windshield, backlite and quarter windows.

Comau Pico also manufactures robots which include the Smart H4 Hollow Wrist” high-performance spot welding robot. The company also provides robots for material handling and press line automation equipment.

Service Benefits
On the service end, Comau Pico promises to supply engineering and maintenance services for equipment and production processes in order to guarantee the highest availability at committed costs. For its customers, this translates into a variety of benefits including:
¥ Agreed-upon maintenance cost reduction in the first six months
¥ Agreed-upon first-year reduction in annual cost
¥ Measurement to existing plants in production

What else can Comau Pico Service do for its customers? The following is just a sample:
¥ Improve overall system throughput
¥ Reduce spare parts and costs
¥ Optimize PM tasks
¥ Improve equipment performance
¥ Reduce catastrophic failures
¥ Reduce the burden on plant management
¥ Improve maintenance skills
¥ Provide expert process and industrial engineering support

Among the myriad other services offered by Comau Pico are maintenance engineering, spares and consumables materials management, direct maintenance and full production support, preventative maintenance and support services, and non-production facilities management.

Ready to be Different
It can be said that the most valuable and successful companies are always ready to do something different if the results are cheaper, better or faster. Comau Pico is constantly testing new components and benchmarking manufacturing processes to find the optimum manufacturing solutions.

For example, a recent body-shop case study by the Comau Pico Service group found that through maintenance systems re-engineering, Comau Pico was able to reduce maintenance overtime while maintaining or improving current equipment performance, improve body-shop cost efficiency, increase preventative maintenance to reduce catastrophic failures, reduce spares and reduce consumables inventory and acquisition costs.

That’s another reason why Comau Pico has risen from humble beginnings to becoming a world player. Continually striving to be the best at what it does, Comau Pico never strays far from its original mission statement: “(To) continually improve products, processes and services to provide our customers with innovative solutions which contribute to their competitive advantage.”

Volume:
3
Issue:
6
Year:
2000


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