Columbia, Tennessee, sits 17 miles outside of Spring Hill, Saturn's main assembly plant and spiritual center. It is home to a 30,000 ft2 plant jointly owned by Budd and Visteon that operates under the "BV Chassis Systems" banner, and supplies independent rear suspension modules for Saturn's 2002 Vue SUV.
"Everything was assembled so that we operate as ‘BV' and not as ‘Budd' or ‘Visteon'," says Earl E. Kansier, CEO of BV Chassis Systems. "By swapping the program management and lead engineer on every other program, we make sure that there is no distinction between Budd and Visteon. This gives our customer a single point of contact–a BV person –on each program."
Except for the addition of the 4wd version's rear differential and driveshafts, the module structures are the same. "Early on in the program," says Bob Walker, director, Suspension and Exhaust System Engineering for Visteon, "we were able to work with the customer to drive the adoption of a common rear suspension design. I can't tell you that it came out of GM as a module, but it became apparent very quickly that it could be put together as a system built around the same components."
Design and development of structural components were not part of Visteon's repertoire, but they were part of Budd's. "When you're a manufacturer of structural components," says Kansier, "often you are involved with the packaging of components. In this case, we brought the structural and packaging expertise to the project, while Visteon brought the component and overall suspension design knowledge."
Responsibility for the overall ride and handling of the Vue remained with GM, which meant it was responsible for setting the parameters and making certain they were met. "GM released a lot of the engineering responsibilities to us," says Wayne Jaslow, supervisor, Chassis Modules at Visteon, "and allowed us to optimize the suspension hard points from the original geometry. Much of the analysis was done to optimize NVH, handling, and tuning using a software package proprietary to Visteon. Once we were satisfied with the initial design, it was built and tested on a chassis rig as if it was mounted on the vehicle."
Of course, not every situation calls for a module. "OEMs assemble parts, and do it very well," says Walker. "So as a supplier, Walker explains, a task is to determine which parts it should assemble into a module based on how it performs its function as a system. Apparently, this idea extends to BV Chassis Systems as well.
Manufacturing responsibility at the plant level is split, with Budd controlling management and finance, and Visteon handling manufacturing and quality leadership. The two companies have been partners for almost four years.
According to Kansier, "In order to maintain product design sensitivity, all of the engineering change notifications, tracking and commercial responsibilities fell under Budd's systems. Budd also had all plant layout and delivery responsibility, and was responsible for all the information systems and EDI interface issues."
Designing, developing, testing, and systems integration were in Visteon's court.
"Our heritage as part of Ford gives us a top-down view of a vehicle," says Visteon's Walker, "and the needs of the production process. This level of understanding, when combined with the expertise of a partner like Budd, means we can operate well within the targets set by the OEM. And we did."
Speaking of targets: If the Vue becomes a bigger than anticipated hit, BV is ready. Says Kansier, "The Columbia facility has approximately 60 employees working over two shifts, and we can expand the facility to approximately 90,000 ft2 if needed to meet demand."