By on April 20, 2010

The volcano on Iceland spews trouble for auto manufacturers. Ever since most of Europe has been declared a no-fly zone, just-in-time bit the dust. Literally.

Today, the lines stopped at the BMW factory in Dingolfing, writes Automobilwoche [sub]. On Wednesday, the lines will stop moving in Regensburg and on Thursday in Munich. More than 7000 bimmers are affected. The reason: Electronic parts that usually get flown in.  Icelandic ash brings production lines all over the globe to a grinding halt …

In Spartanburg, SC, production of the X5 and X6 is affected. Their transmissions are air freighted from Europe to the U.S. Now, they languish in containers and wait fort he dust to clear.

Even something as mundane as seat covers can bring the production to a stop. Der Spiegel reports that many seat covers are made in the Mid East, and get flown to Europe. Now, they get flown as far as possible, and get trucked for the rest of the way. Just-in-time has no provision for that.

You think that’s a boon for manufacturers in Asia? Think again. The world of of manufacturing is inter-meshed.

Tomorrow, Nissan will stop its lines in Kanagawa, near Tokyo. The Murano, Rogue and Cube are waiting for air pressure sensors. They are made in Ireland. No flight leaves Ireland or the UK. According to The Nikkei [sub], two production lines at a plant in Fukuoka will also be affected.  A company spokesman said it hasn’t been decided whether the suspension will continue. Britain’s Britain’s National Air Traffic Service said in an overnight statement that the volcano eruption was strengthening and a new ash cloud was spreading south and east toward Britain, reports Reuters.

If the parts are there, then often the people are missing. Many had an extended Easter holiday. Workers are stuck in Mallorca. Managers are grounded in Singapore, where hotels are fully booked because of a cloud of dust over Europe.

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6 Comments on “Ashes To Ashes: Volcano Stops The Lines...”


  • avatar
    Mr Carpenter

    How much of the Model T did “Crazy Henry” have built at Highland Park, and how much of the Model A and later V8′s did “Crazy Henry” have built at River Rouge?

    Answer: I’m not absolutely certain, but it had to be in the high 90th percentile. I know that there is a glass manufacturing plant at River Rouge, and tire factories were not too far away in Akron, Ohio – so you pretty well could say that the cars could have been built without problems, despite natural disasters.

    Perhaps just perhaps it’d be smart to start considering

    a) making goods near their markets

    b) if a manufacturer, make 100% of the product yourself at your own factories and take responsibility for the whole product

    c) put emergency contingiency plans into effect (so that if a natural disaster strikes, you have plants elsewhere which can temporarily ship product as needed)

  • avatar
    chuckR

    All this caution is based on computer models. From a FT.com article

    The computer models that guided decisions to impose a no-fly zone across most of Europe in recent days are based on incomplete science and limited data, according to European officials. As a result, they may have over-stated the risks to the public, needlessly grounding flights and damaging businesses.

    Computer models worked so well for climate science, so I guess national officials thought they would try the same approach again. The models aren’t even wrong. To reach that conclusion you’d need physical sampling, which apparently has not been performed. Here’s an opportunity for a collaboration between a meteorologist, a vulcanologist and a jet engine engineer. Questions – any difference in danger due to different types of eruptions, what damage levels obtain from different sizes and concentrations of ash, at what point does dispersion reduce risk and damage to acceptable levels, is there any reroute planning that can be done to mitigate necessary groundings, and probably a lot more…

  • avatar
    BMWfan

    @ Mr Carpenter

    Your thoughts make a lot of sense IF you want to pay 10K more for your car. We live in a global economy now, the days of one manufacturer sourcing all of the parts locally, or manufacturing them in house are long long gone.

  • avatar
    Pig_Iron

    As long as Trollhättan is not effected, I’m O K.

  • avatar
    Neb

    @ Mr. Carpenter

    The answer is that if you spend money on a contingency plan then your costs are greater vs. the guy with no contingency plan. So nobody using the just in time production system has contingency plans.

    Now this is in many ways quite bad, since like the article shows, it makes for a quite brittle and easily breakable system, since even small effects can cause enormous consequences. It’s a system that fails anytime anything becomes suboptimal, and all things considered, you wouldn’t fly in a airplane that fails when something unexpected happens.

    Of course, if say, a few governments got together and mandated some robustness on everyone, then that would solve the problem (while slightly increasing the cost of production.) But of course that would be COMMUNISM, and ITS BETTER THAT A RANDOM EVENT CAUSES A NEW DARK AGE THEN FOR ME TO THINK ABOUT EXTERNALITIES THE SLIGHTEST BIT, etc, etc.

    @ Mr. Schmitt: I know Toyota pioneered the just in time production system, but unlike later adopters their suppliers were still physically close to the assembly plants. Is Toyota having less problems because of this?

    • 0 avatar
      JeremyR

      Of course, just one contingency plan wouldn’t be enough. You’d need various contingency plans to cope with the various types of disasters that might occur. So be prepared to commit a lot more resources to develop your portfolio of contingency plans.

      Did you really just say that this sort of thing should be mandated? Who should be subject to such mandates–just manufacturers, or other industries too? What processes would be required to have contingency plans? For what circumstances would development of contingency plans be required? Will we also need contingency police to enforce that the contingency plans are actually followed? Yep, sounds like the perfect thing to regulate…


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