Issue: Jul 2005


Supplier of the Year - 4 times in a row



Shape Corporation has, for the fourth consecutive year, received a General Motors Supplier of the Year Award.

by John Larkin

Shape Corporation has, for the fourth consecutive year, received a General Motors Supplier of the Year Award. This time, Shape was recognised for its design and production of front and rear impact beams for various models of GM cars. The award specifically recognises Shape�s superior quality and technology that led to combining energy absorbers with steel bumpers to optimise crash performance.
Mark Weissenborn, Shape�s business unit manager for General Motors, says that the company was particularly honoured because GM only awarded Supplier of the Year recognition to 77 of its roughly 6,000 suppliers. Furthermore, says Weissenborn, winning the award becomes tougher every year because GM, like all automakers, keeps raising the bar.
Shape has worked with GM for the past few years in an effort which the two companies call �complexity reduction�. The effort has helped to reduce the number of unique parts used for impact beams on GM vehicles. This, in turn, has resulted in significant tooling savings for GM, capital investment savings for Shape, and a strengthened business relationship for both.
Shape has also worked with GE Plastics to augment its steel impact beams with energy absorbing plastic systems that are mounted on the outside of these impact beams. General Motors, as well as most other automotive manufacturers, has seen the benefits of these new complete energy management systems. In particular it has allowed GM�s stylists to create some very attractive vehicle designs while still meeting impact standards. Weissenborn notes that in the past, there were times when these two objectives worked against each other. But Shape formed a wholly-owned subsidiary, called Netshape, that works with Shape engineers to design and build complete energy management systems.
Weissenborn explains: �Using Netshape systems enables automakers to design bumpers that are tucked in tighter, with more of a European style to them. At the same time, these bumpers still meet United States crash standards.� One factor that has made this design change possible is the replacement of foam-based systems with those that use plastics.
Technology was not the only basis for the GM award to Shape, however. Cost competitiveness, quality and service were also major criteria. Weissenborn explains that Shape is able to manage product cost through high levels of automation and strict materials cost management. In fact, while Shape sales approach $250 million annually, the company only employs about 1,000 people worldwide. �Because of the high efficiency and automation used in our manufacturing processes, most of our costs are in materials,� he says. �We are one of the largest users of ultra high-strength steels, and most of our steel suppliers are nearby. The result is that we can and do manufacture and ship our products to international destinations and still remain very cost competitive.�
Shape has been working with products to improve side impact protection as well, and has developed a new unique side door intrusion beam. �We developed and have orders for two GM vehicles using our new design,� he says. Another new system under development will help GM meet 2006 side impact standards for 2006 and beyond.
To help meet GM�s stringent quality requirements, Shape has worked to reduce its supplier base to only those few that can understand and meet Shape�s aggressive goals and requirements. Just as Shape works with GM in product development processes, so does it work with its suppliers. �When we are awarded a contract,� Mr Weissenborn says, �our suppliers have been working along with us all through the development process.�
He is also quick to point out that the Supplier of the Year Award from GM belongs not only to the GM Business Unit, but everyone at Shape. �The people in the unit are a thrill to work with,� he stresses. �Their energy and dedication make it easier to get the job done. That energy and can-do attitude exists throughout our organisation.�
With headquarters in Grand Haven, Michigan, Shape projects that its success with GM and in other markets will lead to growth of 50 to 60 percent in the next couple of years. About 80 percent of the company�s revenues come from the automotive industry and the rest come from office furniture, appliance and agricultural industry products. The headquarters is supported by engineering facilities in Germany, Japan and Madison Heights, Michigan. Within the last year, Shape also opened a new sales, engineering and logistics office in Hiroshima Japan.
In addition to serving General Motors, Shape also provides products and systems to Daimler Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and


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