Competition in the automotive industry is intense. The same thing goes for body plant engineering: often, up to 20 vendors compete for projects from automotive manufacturers. The management of thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions and the Head of Product Area Project Business reveal how the body construction specialists are prevailing in the highly competitive market environment.
The Project Business product area at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions covers the entire plant engineering business and comprises constructing equipment for body-in-white manufacture, including plant services, toolmaking and prototyping, as well as the standard products business.
The body construction specialists regard themselves as excellently positioned in this intensely competitive market. "It is not rare that we find ourselves competing with 10, 15 or sometimes even 20 other vendors for a customer's project," reveals Falk Nüssle, CEO of Automotive Body Solutions. "We need to set ourselves apart from the competition with our strengths." thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions takes a methodological approach to satisfying this requirement. And not only because the company, which operates primarily from Germany and Europe, finds itself amid international competition. "After all, the criteria for awarding these projects don't just boil down to price," says Nüssle. Above all, the decisive factors are process and technical competence, in addition to quality. "Our particular advantage lies in our comprehensive technical expertise along the entire process chain, with the corresponding management of interfaces from prototypes to toolmaking, and from standard products to the body-in-white and plant service."
The largest area of activity here is the body-in-white, where complex body construction projects are also turned into reality. "We also possess an extremely high level of planning expertise," smiles Felix Bader, Chief Human Resources Officer at Automotive Body Solutions. "And in terms of quality, we are one of the leading vendors on the market in any case." When it comes to toolmaking, the company is even the largest independent player in Germany. Customers know that the body construction specialist is a one-stop shop for both these areas.
In addition, the production equipment sector is a truly high performer with some decisive in-house synergy effects: as an integrated plant manufacturer, thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions combines plant engineering and toolmaking and series production of bodies and body components. By combining the two areas, the company can offer its customers customized and proven solutions from a single source for the entire body shop. This also pays off when it comes to developing new products and innovations: "We work very closely with our colleagues from the series production area. Both perspectives and competencies complement one another perfectly: This puts us in a position to understand our customers, their projects and needs much faster and better than our competitors can," reveals Thorsten Körbs, Head of Product Area Project Business at Automotive Body Solutions.
Completely new developments are also frequently tested with the series production area, and by working together we elevate them to series production readiness. "Normally, a process like this takes place jointly with the customer, and it is usually rather time consuming. At thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions, however, we can give the customer confirmation at a very early stage that its project will also work in series production. Of course, this simplifies the approval process for our customers. This is a real unique selling point for us, no other vendors can match it!" emphasizes Lisa Denoyelle, Chief Financial Officer at Automotive Body Solutions.
A total focus on customers' needs and close cooperation with them perhaps represent the decisive factors in the plant manufacturer's success. "We are always the direct and central point of contact for our customers, even though we are a global business and also outsource some projects to Asia. We work with an impressively high level of agility and flexibility, we offer very short response times, and we bundle all the areas of responsibility within our company." The reward: an above-average reputation with customers and regular, excellent ratings – "irrespective of which customer it happens to be," Felix Bader emphasizes proudly.
Teamwork is of central importance here, he adds. Not only internally, but also – and above all – between the client and contractor. "At the end of the day, we do indeed have the classic customer-supplier relationship," says Falk Nüssle. "But actually, we both have a common goal: to get the product completed as quickly as possible."
Digitalization also helps in this regard. "Among other things, we've developed a high level of expertise in automation over the years, and we've also been working with virtual commissioning procedures for a very long time: digitalization enables us to preview new plants virtually on a 1:1 model, by means of a digital twin. This now reaches so far that it enables us to run simulations in which we can take a virtual tour through the plant together with the customer. The goal is to prepare the plant to the point where, to put it simply, it functions on a plug-and-play basis."
For all their customer orientation, the body plant engineering specialists are also aware of one thing: the price has also got to be right, of course. "Because we are a global player, we can build a cost structure that allows us to market our products at competitive prices – at the same time as maintaining our high quality standards."
At this point, it is also worth mentioning what are called standard products – an important growth area for the company. These are body assembly products that are, firstly, standardized across the board and consequently can be marketed more easily than highly complex body construction systems that have been custom-built. Secondly, this involves highly innovative high-tech products which thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions holds more than 50 patents for. These include, for example, solutions developed to meet specific customer requirements in the area of bonded door seals or folded body add-on parts. Lisa Denoyelle: "This area is very appealing for the expansion of our product portfolio, but that's not all. The regular market launches of new products also underlines our permanently high innovativeness."
Another exciting innovation is something called megacasting; in this, we use gigantic presses to produce very large body components by die casting. "These are topics that major producers of electric vehicles are also thinking about intensively," explains Falk Nüssle. In any event, electric mobility is sparking additional momentum at thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions. "It goes without saying that electric mobility equates to large-scale lightweight construction. In this context, we're seeing an increasing use of adhesive bonding techniques in the production of car body components, something that is also explained by the materials used in lightweight car bodies. We've therefore decided to enter the market for bonding technologies, in which there are only a few players as yet," reports Falk Nüssle. This is another technology that thyssenkrupp Automotive Body Solutions intends to deploy toward strengthening its position as one of the leading body plant engineering companies in a highly competitive market.