Project management in plant engineering: work for several OEMs

Project management in plant engineering is always a challenge. Setting up and optimizing complex machines for even more complex, interdependent processes is an outstanding act of coordination. The task becomes even more demanding when one supplier works for several OEMs. The scope and content of the project can vary considerably – with the result that the supplier can end up caught in the middle.

Standards, norms, audits – automotive suppliers lost in paragraphs

The automotive production of manufacturers is regulated by norms and standards. Many established OEMs rely on IAFT 16949:2016, which regulates quality management. Regular audits ensure that the relevant assessment criteria are met but the way in which they are implemented is left to the manufacturers. As a result, suppliers for automotive plant engineering, if they work for several OEMs, often have to deal with group- or manufacturer-specific implementations.

One consequence of this inconsistent approach is that different solutions often have to be developed in order to fulfil the same function. Large manufacturers, who produce in large quantities, may find it easier to do so. They can rely on familiar and proven standard components with minor modifications, while specialized, smaller companies, which can be found in tier 2 or tier 3 of the supply chain, must develop individual solutions.

Supplier business for plant engineering faces new challenges

The expected electrification of road traffic in the coming decades will also bring major changes in engineering. Many manufacturers are currently working to produce large quantities of electrically powered cars as quickly and cheap as possible in the near future. This change affects various industries and company departments, such as the management responsible for converting production lines. This also affects the project management of plant engineering and construction sector, which manufactures the corresponding machines.

Accordingly, production lines work in their natural territory for plant engineering in the automotive sector. At the same time, both manufacturers and suppliers are feeling the effects of changing economic conditions, such as declining sales of pure combustion engines. The result is a price war between both camps, which could be intensified in the medium term by the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

How many OEMs a supplier for plant construction can serve simultaneously cannot be determined. This number depends on the size of the company, the specialty of the field and the order volume including the expected development expenses. The position of the supplier in the value chain must also be taken into account here. If the supplier produces components that have a wide range of applications, it is of course attractive to numerous OEMs. At the other end of the spectrum are highly specialized suppliers, some of whom may even be bound to manufacturers by exclusive contracts.

Equally interesting is the question of how suppliers for automotive plant engineering can best adapt to individual OEM standards. This includes aspects such as the correct, possibly manufacturer-specific wording. It is in the interest of both parties (and of the final result) to exchange views on this topic at an early stage and thus prevent subsequent difficulties. Here, too, it is therefore difficult to make an overall assessment.

Conclusion: project management in plant engineering and the suppliers

Suppliers operating at a high level are of central importance for project management in automotive plant engineering. They may work for several OEMs, but in this case they are faced with special questions. For example, applicable standards are implemented differently by various manufacturers. This results in a dynamic and mixed situation in the cooperation, which represents a challenge for suppliers that should not be underestimated. The best solution here is probably the closest possible cooperation, through which important questions can be clarified quickly. This way, suppliers can focus on the individual needs of the OEMs and lay the foundation for the most effective and smooth cooperation possible.