Engineering for a flat world

Nov. 2, 2006
In a world gone “flat” thanks to galloping globalization, commercial vehicle engineers will be increasingly called on to drive product success across international boundaries as manufacturers seek to best serve established and emerging regional truck markets

CHICAGO. In a world gone “flat” thanks to galloping globalization, commercial vehicle engineers will be increasingly called on to drive product success across international boundaries as manufacturers seek to best serve established and emerging regional truck markets. That was the message from a panel of truck OEM and supplier chief executives speaking yesterday at the SAE 2006 Commercial Vehicle Engineering Congress here.

“Columnist Thomas Friedman is right; the world is flat,” noted Jack Allen, president-engine group, International Truck and Engine Corp., as he introduced the Global CEO Panel on the “Roles of Engineers and Engineering in Product Globalization.” He said the challenge for OEMs and suppliers is to determine how engineering resources can be marshaled to be effective on a global scale.

Moderator Daniel Ustian, president, chairman & CEO of Navistar International, stated that worldwide “engineering talent is needed to support region-specific customer needs” to leverage designs, technologies and technical capabilities. “The [engineering] resource base is global but the challenges differ [region by region].”

Panelist Paul Vikner, president & CEO of Mack Trucks, observed that talk of globalization often leads to the question of whether a “global truck” is coming. “But,” he declared, “nothing could be further from the truth. There are too many distinct truck applications around the world for that.” What’s more, Vikner pointed out that around the world there has been a big uptick in spec requirements in the last 15 years, driven by customer requirements, as well as safety advancements and the march of electronics. “In 1990, there were 34 electronic options on a Mack — in 2006, there are over 500 and counting.”

All this product innovation, Vikner continued, must be brought to market while also ensuring there are improvements made to the “quality, delivery and cost” of trucks. “There must be streamlining of truck specs [for efficiency’s sake], yet there must be the correct specs for every application.”

He said the path all global truck makers are taking to succeed in the face of this dichotomy is “platform thinking,” which will improve quality, delivery and cost by making it less expensive to manufacture trucks and bring them to market faster.

Vikner made the case that since Sweden’s Volvo acquired America’s Mack and France’s Renault truck operations, there has been “sharing of technologies and components while preserving [truck] brand distinctiveness. Global platforms meet the [efficiency] challenges, but must accommodate the needs of regional markets and their customers as well.

“The result,” he concluded,” is a more challenging environment requiring greater engineering excellence [for OEMs] to compete effectively in the future.”

The other panelists and their key points:

  • John Sanderson, president & CEO of Siemens VDO Automotive Corp., explained how his firm “constantly evaluates and dissects our own engineering capabilities to position ourselves in growth markets.” He said Siemens VDO establishes global centers of engineering competence with an eye to “maintaining balance between customer proximity, operations, cost and access to cutting-edge research.” He said doing this correctly “can help bring the right products to the right markets with the highest efficiency and the lowest cost.”
  • Ulrich Dohle, president of the Diesel Systems business unit of Robert Bosch GmbH, said the challenge of regional emissions regulations within the growing diesel markets around the globe requires customized solutions. “The local presence of engineers is essential,” he stated. “Bosch believes in the worldwide transfer of know-how; the global utilization of human resources…our strategy is to build up local know-how to support our customers [where they are.]”
  • Peter Volanakis, COO of Corning Inc., said the company advances its “innovation model” across global markets with a centralized approach to R&D and engineering that is coupled with a global support network. “Customer technical and engineering links are critical. This means our key subject-matter experts must be globetrotters, as it takes years to build credible local talent [for high technology products].”

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