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ECONOMY SHOULD DRIVE RENAISSANCE OF PROCESS AND MATERIAL IMPROVEMENT IN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY

 ECONOMY SHOULD DRIVE RENAISSANCE OF PROCESS AND MATERIAL IMPROVEMENT
 IN AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
 DETROIT, Feb. 24 /PRNewswire/ -- "Given the present business climate, it is likely that, for the short term, there will be few opportunities for the automotive industry to start from the ground up. The picture is not entirely gloomy, however. Less available capital should help to drive a renaissance of process and material improvement."
 Speaking informally at the Society of Automotive Engineers Conference, Robert D. Albert, vice president - Automotive Materials Group, Dow Plastics (a business group of The Dow Chemical Company), stressed that this entails a search for extraordinary solutions to ordinary problems for both automakers and suppliers.
 Albert acknowledged that the glamour part of the business will probably always be new product and process development. "I don't want to minimize the role of new product development, but every application can't be breakthrough. Simply put, no one could afford it."
 "Instead, there should be increased concentration on the creative use of some materials and technologies that exist today," Albert said, noting that this kind of focus represents something of a change. "It is imperative that the unconventional approaches to problem solving make use of equipment and manpower already in place."
 "Automotive design and engineering are highly creative processes. But, creativity without pragmatism won't be enough. In today's economic environment, working smart will be as important -- perhaps more important -- than breaking new ground."
 Albert pointed to the fact that there are apt to be fewer commitments of new capital by the automakers and their suppliers, and that the investments that are made will likely be smaller.
 This new look at what is already "capital-in-place" in both OEMs and suppliers' facilities will give even greater importance to redefined supplier/customer relationships that are developing.
 For the last few years, there has been a marked increased in the effective partnering by the automakers with suppliers who are committed to meeting the challenges and the demands that we are encountering, he said.
 Part of the supplier's responsibility in this, Albert said, is in sharing an element of measured risk, and supporting the customer's specifying decisions with the right products and technical assistance. That is part of the cost of doing business, he added.
 Albert defined the supplier/customer relationship as a matter of trust. "A customer should never have to accept second best as the best alternative. There are enough credible choices available today to avoid that. Every option doesn't have to be a new material; it may be a new wrinkle on a material already available, used in a different application."
 The true test in automotive plastics, he said, is whether a material or a process is used on a repeat basis. "It's the proof that something works ... that a product is cost effective ... that support systems are in place to meet the customer's needs ... and, that the customer's customer has accepted its use for the application," he said.
 "In the excitement about new and unique, it's easy to lose sight of the fact that proliferation of the material and the technology may often be more meaningful."
 How many times, Albert asked, have you heard about a great new yet- to-be commercialized material in a breakthrough application, only to have it disappear from the marketplace a year or two later, after it is found to be impractical?
 "We agree fully that innovation is a critical element in the automotive business, but there can only be one first time for an application. It is the second, third, and fourth applications that indicate the acceptance of an automotive plastic as mainstream. Achieving mainstream status is a complex process."
 No one can lose sight of that complexity, he added.
 "It's getting more and more difficult, today, for the designer and engineer," Albert explained. "On one side, there are the technical considerations -- CAFE (weight reduction/fuel efficiency), cost reduction, and occupant safety, for example. On the other, is the always-critical issue of aesthetics -- designing cars consumers want to buy."
 He described automotive specifiers as the people in the middle. "In the regular course of business, it's easy to forget that they have the desire and capability to do great things," Albert said.
 "Automotive designers and engineers are problem solvers. So are we. When we work well together effectively, the results can be amazing."
 Regarding Dow's commitment to the automotive industry, Albert added, "We intend to maintain it -- no matter how great the challenges. That's what our customers expect ... that's why we're here."
 -0- 2/24/92
 /CONTACT: Linda Water of Sefton Associates Inc., 313-355-0077, for Dow Plastics/
 (DOW) CO: Automotive Materials Group, Dow Plastics; The Dow Chemical Company ST: Michigan IN: AUT CHM SU:


ML -- DE007 -- 1705 02/24/92 08:13 EST
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Date:Feb 24, 1992
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