Customization for Military Vehicles

What military vehicle OEMs can learn from passenger vehicle production.

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In contrast to Henry Ford’s model of standardized car production, the introduction of the modern Mini in 2000 shifted customer demands for customization in passenger vehicles. However, the need for flexible production isn’t solely confined to consumer cars. Roger Brereton of military steering system manufacturer Pailton Engineering investigates how military vehicle manufacturers are using flexible production methods to fulfill requirements for customized vehicles.

Unlike the customization that has become commonplace in consumer vehicles, customization for military vehicles is far more functional, and far more important. Properties such as vehicle armoring, wading capabilities, air filters and insulation speed requirement options are just a few examples of factors that could change on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis.

Military vehicles have unique requirements, not only depending on their application, but also the location in which they will be deployed. Because of this, the same vehicle may require small but significant variations in its production.

Let’s say a vehicle OEM is developing a fleet of reconnaissance vehicles for a military force. Some will be deployed in desert environments, whereas others will need to endure sub-zero climates. Both environments elicit very different requirements.

Due to the crucial requirements for smooth steering, any version of this reconnaissance vehicle will require design specification that can cope with both low and high temperatures. By ensuring a quality steering system like this, the vehicle OEM can guarantee the vehicle can perform in both arctic and desert conditions.

By ensuring this specification during the manufacturing, the military does not have to implement major changes if the vehicle is shipped to a new theatre of operation. Smaller changes, however, such as the requirement vehicles to be heavily armored, will add additional steps to the manufacturing process. Other accessory changes include the addition of equipment for wading capabilities for semi-submerged environments, or additional air filtering for vehicles to be used in hot climates.

From a manufacturing perspective, this range of vehicle variables complicates the production line by creating several separate production projects. Just in Time (JIT) production, sometimes referred to as the Toyota Production System (TPS), has long been used in automotive manufacturing for standardized car production, but this methodology is also effective for complicated customization in larger vehicles.

To meet these complex requirements, military vehicle manufacturers are implementing Just in Sequence (JIS) production, a new and more time-effective way of dealing with vehicle customization.

Essentially, JIS is an effective method of supplying parts to high-mixture but low-volume production models. For example, a small fraction of a vehicle batch requires bevel boxes to be installed with low-temperature lubrication. Additionally, a percentage of that batch of vehicles also need additional armor to be installed. JIS production methods ensure all components, including wheels, additional armor and appropriately lubricated components, are in the assembly station in the correct sequence, matching the order in which the vehicles are arriving.

This method allows production operators to quickly install the correct part onto each vehicle — often synchronizing the arrival of each part to the production facility to ensure as little inventory is built up as possible. For industries with many bespoke parts and components, like military vehicle production, this methodology can significantly reduce lead times for new vehicle creation.

Successful JIS production requires careful management from the vehicle OEM, as well as access to the right information from parts suppliers. As a specialist supplier of steering systems and parts for the military vehicle industry, Pailton Engineering understands the importance of delivering this information to its OEM customers, allowing them to produce new vehicles as quickly as possible.

Customization has always been essential for military vehicle production. However, the industry must take advantage of new methodologies — some of which are being put in place by the passenger vehicle production sector, like JIS production.

Roger Brereton is head of sales at Pailton Engineering.

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