Like love at first sight, you know at a glance when you find the car of your dreams. When first blush fades and you move beyond the favorable image, you open the door and position yourself behind the wheel. The car feels right immediately because the seat is comfortable. That comfort, more often than not, is the result of the work of Camaco, LLC, the world’s leader in automotive seat frames. Camaco’s seat structures are integral components to automobiles produced by almost all of the world’s top auto OEMs.”Seat comfort is one of the key drivers consumers use when choosing a new car. Our seat frames are highly engineered products delivering cost-effective comfort and safety,” says Arvind Pradhan, president and chief executive officer of the Novi, Mich.-based company. With facilities totaling nearly 1 million square feet, Camaco is the world’s leading supplier of automotive seat frames and interior metals. The Tier II company supplies to major Tier I suppliers and automotive OEMs including Ford, GM, DaimlerChrysler, Mercedes, BMW, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
Superior quality, however, is not simply an off-the-shelf commodity and Camaco recognizes this hard fact of life. “Poor quality is the highest cost of production, but I know that Camaco will be cost-competitive if we consistently deliver 100 percent quality,” says Pradhan. Camaco customers have come to rely on that quality, which it achieves through vanguard technology. “If that technology is efficient, it will give us the best quality with the lowest-cost advantage,” Pradhan adds.
The People Factor
Practice makes perfect might work for other companies, but for Camaco, perfection is the manufacturing practice. “The automotive industry is very competitive from a pricing standpoint, and the only people that can survive in this environment are those that can offer the highest quality at a low cost,” says Pradhan.
With OEMs requiring less than 25 parts per million (PPM), there is little room for error. Says Pradhan, “So you have to have people who are not going to be satisfied with anything less than perfect.” The people at Camaco have embraced this challenge from its customers, and continually strive to exceed their expectations.
Always on the lookout for the newest technologies available in the world and the people trained in those technologies, Camaco hires personnel from around the world, with a focus on technological expertise. In particular, the company searches for employees who have a strong background and training in tool-and-die craftsmanship.
The people who work at Camaco are critical to the company’s success, as is its profit-sharing program, says Jim Ramsey, general manager of the company’s Lorain, Ohio, facility. Under the program, 10 percent of all profits are shared by Camaco’s 1,100 employees. “These are really good people,” Ramsey says. “When you show them the direction and how it affects the company’s bottom line, they go for it. Our personnel and profit sharing have helped increase our labor efficiencies, reduce our scrap and dramatically increase our up time.” Employees thus know they have full ownership in the organization and layout of the factory floor. “Employees are therefore enthusiastic about excelling and managing their own destiny, while I offer support,” says Pradhan.
Camaco’s relationship with local vocational schools has aided the company in developing homegrown and highly skilled workers qualified to meet the company’s stringent competency requirements. Camaco established apprenticeship tool-and-die programs in these schools. The apprenticeship programs – which use Camaco technologies, robots and tool-and- die equipment – are located in cities home to Camaco production facilities in Lorain and Columbus, Neb. The company also began a welding apprenticeship program in Columbus, adding a curriculum exclusively dedicated to welding to the vocational school’s course offerings.
Framework for Success
As industries continue to consolidate, Tier II and III suppliers must be nimble in responding successfully to the ever-shifting environment. “Ten years ago, almost all of the seating designs were done at the OEM level, but they transitioned those responsibilities to Tier Is for designing and developing major modules,” explains Pradhan. “The Tier Is have started to transition those responsibilities to the Tier II companies. This requires the Tier IIs to take on quality, warranty and safety concerns.”
Those Tier Is include companies like Magna, Lear and Johnson Controls. Another relationship fitting the Camaco philosophy is its marked strategic advantage in its joint venture with Magna in May of 1999. “That was a major accomplishment for us. We can offer more than our competitors in that we can work in the Tier I arena because Magna did not want to be in the business of doing seat frames,” continues Pradhan. The company’s engineering and design departments work closely in simultaneous design and engineering teams with the counterpart departments of Tier I companies. The Magna joint venture is a response to the continual changes in the automotive supply environment, and positions Camaco to further its capabilities in engineering and design.
“I’m really proud of what our people have done in the area of customer relationships,” says Ramsey. “The biggest thing in customer service is on-time delivery of quality parts. We have never missed a shipment to a customer. If a customer has an issue, we’re there. We solicit the ideas and opinions of everyone on the staff in these cases.”
Another perfect fit is found in Camaco’s general managers, such as Ramsey, who are highly trained technically and understand all the details of the production operations they manage. “They are entrepreneurs who run the plants. They are highly competent and can fix problems on the floor,” Pradhan says.
That level of competency permeates Camaco facilities and work force. Technology drives the consistent levels of uncompromising quality. “You have to have highly trained people who can maintain the equipment, while also keeping their eyes open to every little detail – always with the customer in mind,” says Pradhan.
Camaco’s lean-manufacturing process includes frequent kaizen events to ensure efficient workflow. The employees participate in these events to organize and solve their work-cell issues and problems. “The employees are therefore enthusiastic about both excelling and having a high level of ownership,” says Pradhan. This participation, coupled with the profit-sharing program, creates additional incentives to excel for the employees.
Welding is another key technology contributing to products of superior quality. “Every weld must be perfect because if one of the welds breaks in the seat, you have a major problem from a safety standpoint,” Pradhan says, adding that there might be as much as 50 inches of weld in a seat frame system.
To ensure that each and every weld leaves the factory floor nothing less than perfect, Camaco – in a joint effort with a supplier – developed a weld-control system. This system measures and controls variations in welding, and results in much-improved throughput. On another technical front, Camaco also developed the industry’s first vision system to test parameters to ensure they meet Camaco’s exacting tolerances. Both innovations show that the company is on the forefront of vision technology and help Camaco ensure dimensional adherence. “These are the types of thing we are doing to push our technology to give us the edge in quality,” Pradhan says.
From the beginning, Camaco determined to focus its business on robotically welded seat frames. Ramsey says this has provided a further driver to the company’s success. “Once you have that focus, you can go forward to become the best of the best in that category,” he says. “Eventually, we’ll have our customers thinking only of Camaco when they think of robotically welded seat frames.”
In the Driver’s Seat
With 2001 revenues at $180 million, Camaco envisions a bright future even as the nation struggles through an uncertain recession. “As the market tightens in a subdued economy, consolidation of the supplier base will provide the opportunity for growth,” says Pradhan.
“Three things – price, quality and delivery – will determine our future,” says Ramsey. “No matter what the current buzz in the auto industry is, it all comes down to these three. We foresee further opportunities as more of the transplants (Toyota, Honda, Nissan and the like) open facilities in North America. We also think there are opportunities in producing seat frames for buses, trains, aircraft, recreational vehicles and trucks.”
As Tier Is focus more on complete modules, the result will be additional opportunities to outsource more and more of their subsystem needs. This, coupled with Camaco’s partnership with Magna, will open the avenue to the international market. “We will provide more value-added features into the seats like better matting and lumbar systems. We plan to use more advanced materials to reduce the weight of the seat, while maintaining strength, to help improve gas efficiencies,” Pradhan says.
Ray Kawakami, director of sales and marketing, stresses Camaco’s technological leadership. “Camaco is the world’s leading independent seat frame supplier, and we don’t plan to be eclipsed by anyone,” he says. “Our mission is to continue to lead in terms of sales, customer support, quality and technology. We will accomplish this by promoting the education and self-betterment of our work force.” Clearly, Camaco adeptly synthesizes all of these elements into that perfect fit.