PARIS - Sommer Allibert, the French plastics parts group, is revamping its Meru plant 60km northwest of Paris to handle a new contract to make dashboards and door panels for Renault's future Laguna, Safrane and Espace replacements.
The cars will all be based on the same platform, and will be made at Renault's Sandouville plant near Le Havre.
Sommer Allibert will be one of six suppliers situated in a new supplier park under construction close to the plant. Final and complete modules will be assembled at the Sommer Allibert's supplier-park facility.
The new Laguna will go on sale in 2000. The Safrane and the Espace successors will follow in 2001.
'The three vehicles will be replaced over a year-long period,' said Daniel Caroff, Meru plant manager. 'To achieve this schedule, we are going to double our capital expenditure over the next two years.' Thanks to the Renault contract, Caroff expects a 25 percent rise in the plant's revenue to FF1 billion (euro 152 million, $161 million.)
The appointment of Sommer Allibert as the single supplier of dashboards for three separate vehicles is the result of Renault's new purchasing policy, which is called Optima.
The program appoints suppliers for their innovative techniques and competitive pricing. It offers extra business in return for extra savings. There will eventually be 150 Optima suppliers to Renault.
The layout of the Meru plant is being radically revamped to accommodate the new business. 'We do not want to extend buildings,' said Caroff. 'This would be too expensive, as land nearby is in short supply. We are studying a turnover-per-square-meter plan - it's an excellent way to implement lean production programs.'
The Meru plant layout consists of a long line of injection presses -41 in total. The injection presses work three shifts, while the assembly shops work two shifts.
'We are currently freeing square meters by using the Japanese `hoshin' methods,' said Caroff. 'These consist of doing away with anything that does not add value, such as wasted time, movements and control operations, and unused surfaces.'
An example of this philosophy is embodied in a large shop which now makes bumpers for the Citroen Saxo. Previously it was a warehouse for finished parts - a typical 'non-value-added' operation, according to Caroff.