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A unique co-development programme is helping companies and their suppliers improve their development capabilities.

Matthew Beecham finds out what lies behind Nissan's Cogent scheme Creating an integrated supply base capable of servicing a customer's worldwide operations is an engineering challenge in itself. Increasing levels of responsibility for design, development and logistics requires an increasing sophistication in supplier capabilities, and a greater level of dependence between the carmaker and supplier. Launched in 1995, Nissan's Cogent programme has caused significant change in its suppliers' design and development capabilities.

Cogent, the short form of Co development Regeneration Tool, is a research project done byNissan with the coalition of Cranfield University and its suppliers. The main purpose of theresearch was to improvise the capabilities of the automobile components producers in UK andmake better designs to sustain in the UK market. The design of a component is helpful to satisfythe

customer demand and expectations. The early Cogent participants have achieved an annual average improvement in their design and development performance of 10.3 per cent compared to the 7 per cent performance of all Nissan suppliers. While the improvement in just two short

years is remarkable, the results also emphasise just how the underlying changes to Nissan's internal processes have helped all suppliers to significantly improve performance. One of the best performing suppliers within the Cogent initiative is Collins & Aikman Plastics (UK) Ltd (formerly Kigass Engineering Ltd until early 1998). Since first committing to Cogent in June 1996,

the plastics injection moulder has made excellent progress in terms of improving their design and development performance by 32 per cent. Congratulating Collins & Aikman Plastics on

receiving a Cogent award, Andy Palmer, NETC's general manger of vehicle design and test, explained that while product development accounted for five 5 per cent of total vehicle budget, it effectively dictated between 70-80 per cent of production life costs. "If products are badly designed they will be intrinsically

expensive, no matter how many are made or how hard your purchasing department puts the squeeze on you. If a designer makes a product that is hard to assemble, quality will inevitably

suffer. Yes, you can add retrospective Japanese 'poke yoke' countermeasures but this increases cost and reduces plant capacity." While the Cogent process is proving a clear success amongst the first-tier suppliers, the second- and third-tiers have been largely unsupported in terms of improving their design and development capabilities. As a separate follow-on from Cogent,

the DTI are supporting Cranfield University, Cernes & Associates and the SMMT Industry Forum in a three-year project 400,000 project designed to reach out to small and medium-sized firms who want to improve their co-development capability. Armed with a New Product Development Toolkit, the project team will work with participants in order to improve their design and development performance by a target 20 per cent. Through the

SMMT Industry Forum, the processes will be made available to the rest of the UK automotive supply base, as Dr Steve Evans at Cranfield University explains: "It seems logical to us that the lessons learned from the Cogent programme in improving first-tier suppliers' design and development can be of significant benefit to the small and medium size firms operating in the lower tiers. The tools we have seen used successfully will help those suppliers achieve the next competitive advantage in

product development and impact on quality, cost, delivery and product attractiveness."