Increasing demand for sunroof-equipped vehicles signals a booming business for sunroof supplier Webasto Roof Systems Inc. Years ago, the German supplier was forced to shut down one of its roof systems plants in the United States after sales bottomed in 2008. Earlier this year, Webasto chief executive Erik Roeren had a hard time deciding how to increase production while keeping costs down, since he was still unsure whether the boom will last. His options were numerous, like reopening an old site, building a new one, and expanding an existing plant. He also thought of increasing output in one plant without making a significant investment. According to Roeren, Webasto's senior leaders in no way want to undergo the expense of expansion only to see one of its sites shut down. Roeren also well knows that increasing fixed costs is very risky and is especially prone even to slight business downturns.
So, Roeren had to boost production without increasing costs. He eventually found a way to do so after studying the layout of Webasto’s Rochester Hills plant in Michigan. Roeren just had to reconfigure the site and have it work like a Webasto plant in Japan. "I looked at the unproductive, nonvalue-added space in the plant and asked what could we minimize," Roeren told Automotive News.
He said that Webasto had been using a "supermarket-warehouse" style of logistics at the Rochester Hills plant, which supplies sunroofs to carmakers in North America. On the plant floor, all the components were stored on shelves within easy reach of workers on the production line. The shelves were restocked from a warehouse of component in another section of the site.