Given that it is part of Toyota's biggest marketing campaign ever, you have undoubtedly seen more of the new Camry than you learned about in last month's AD&P cover story. The car really is well done. And it is hard to believe that, in the words of Dana L.
Hargitt, executive engineer—Development, Planning & Operations, Toyota Technical Center, USA (Ann Arbor, MI), when they started the program an objective was to "slash the development cost by 30%." The goal was to put more into the Camry without putting bigger numbers on the bottom line of the window sticker. He said that in order to do that they had to "reinvent the process." The process at Toyota had been quick. But it involved the chief engineer passing a vision to styling, which then developed clay models, and then the product development engineers created detailed drawings for all of the parts, which subsequently went to suppliers for prototype parts, which were then assembled at an engineering lab by technicians, and then there is testing, followed by modifications of the parts, which means modifications of the tooling, and then more until it was done. Hargitt says that this approach is vertical. He says that the new approach is horizontal. The new approach includes more extensive computer-aided tools for all aspects. It includes using rapid prototyping equipment for parts. It includes simplifying the build.
And it includes one more thing, a thing that (1) I thought everyone in the industry was already doing and (2) something that I had figured that Toyota would have mastered. Wrong on both counts. Go figure.
One of the habits that annoys my current colleagues is that when we are talking about a given subject that we might cover in the magazine, I have a tendency to refer to articles that have already appeared in one of the variants of this publication. The original forbearer, Production magazine, ran a cover story on simultaneous engineering in July, 1987. Don't get me wrong. I don't think that we were ahead of the curve. We had just been listening to what people were talking about, and what they were talking about back then was simultaneous engineering.
When I asked Hargitt about simultaneous engineering's run—and he'd been with General Motors for 20 years before joining Toyota in 1996—he acknowledged that it is something performed at many organizations. But apparently there is a slight snag. Often, SE meetings turn out to be more along the lines of coffee klatches than serious "let's do all that we can do to make sure we get it right the first time rather than having to go back again and again and again"-type meetings. Sure, there is cross-functional involvement. But cross-functional commitment?
To state the obvious: right now this industry is having a tough time. To state the accurate: some companies in this industry are having a tough time. Those companies that provide vehicles that have superb engineering and build are still being bought, often in record numbers. Those companies that provide anything less are watching their sales figures take a header into the Grand Canyon. And yet many people who work for companies in the latter category have told me that they practice simultaneous engineering.
Look. This is not about pointing fingers. This is not about "I told you so." This is all about succeeding. Every month we work to put together a package that provides you with information about new technologies and best practices, about the things that you can use to leverage resources. Arguably, simultaneous engineering is a best practice. And we can tell you about it. But until it is actually practiced, it is merely potential. And that doesn't make it.