Weber Automotive is known worldwide for its precision and dedication to excellence in the worldwide automotive industry. Each year, the global enterprise produces more than 300,000 engine blocks, 500,000 cylinder heads and approximately 2 million drive and housing parts. With six production sites in Europe and one in Auburn Hills, Mich., Weber Automotive is positioned well to continue delivering the highest levels of quality.
"We have a passion for the industry and doing things right the first time," Vice President of Sales Chip Quarrier explains. "We are known for high levels of precision and quality with every component that comes out of our facilities. A lot of customers and our customers’ products are known for very high levels of quality themselves – Porsche, Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-AMG, BMW, ZF, FCA, Cummins – all of them have a pursuit of excellence. We focus on engineering, machining process development, production, measurement and systems, and data has become the backbone of our operation because it gives us the ability to measure and march toward perfection based on real-time information."
Weber Automotive stresses its innovative abilities and system expertise to help it fulfill a quality standard that does not accept defects, and this promise has been in place since the company’s inception in Germany. It maintains its strength with "global journeymen" who possess extensive knowledge and capabilities in machinery and metals, Quarrier says. This is very much a German strong point, he notes, and combined with Weber Automotive’s advanced technology and automation, the company has maintained a fundamental culture of knowledge, excellence and a willingness to always be better. This is the key ingredient, or DNA, of the company when it launches facilities globally.
"When you look at us as an individual facility in Michigan, we promote our ability to bring value to the customer," Senior Vice President of Operations Richard Chow-Wah says. "We want to have operational efficiency, flexibility and a good knowledge-based workforce that can react and respond quickly to demand and engineering changes. In this business, the reality is that you have varying demands on quality and delivery, but you also have to be aware of the end-customer demand. This is a very capital-intensive and knowledge-based business, but with these strengths, we can be very responsive to customer needs."
Ability to React
In the last year, a large OEM awarded Weber Automotive’s Michigan facility some business, but the requirement was that it needed to move quickly because the OEM had one year to get the product into production. This meant Weber Automotive had six months to get approval on its products by the customer. The company had to purchase materials, rearrange the shop, develop the production lines, invest in new equipment, get it all set up and proven,
and typically this will take two years, Chow-Wah says. But its strengths allowed Weber Automotive to meet the tight deadline and is launching the new program with the OEM now.
"That is a certain competitive advantage we have, specifically in the North American location," Quarrier says. "We are part of the larger group of Weber but we are very autonomous. We have the ability to react because we’re small enough as a team to make those decisions quickly. We are very, very proud of what we did for the OEM and our casting partner, that we could support their execution capability. This is because we are nimble and able and willing to take on a challenge like that, and it proves we continue to be a highly capable manufacturer of machine components."
The company’s business is growing in North America with Weber Automotive’s industry capability and engineering prowess gaining notice. Weber Automotive is focused on the globalization and maturation of its organization, and it is chasing new business opportunities that go along with that.
"We are looking at standard combustion engines and electrification, but also we’re augmenting our awareness in globalization to form more partnerships," Quarrier explains. "An OEM might want us to machine a product, and they might source the raw material and the machining separately, but sometimes they want systems solutions and source both together. For that, we need to further our partnerships and build stronger relationships with suppliers to be more successful on a global basis. Furthermore, we would like to diversify our portfolio into non-automotive areas in which we can use our core competency to benefit new customers."
The Weber Way
Weber Automotive continues to improve its internal operations, ensuring its ongoing focus on excellence. Its goal is to leverage standardization of equipment and processes to keep operations simple and eliminate waste, while also having the ability to implement more flexible processes.
Chow-Wah explains the identity of its products begins when raw material comes into its facility, and Weber Automotive’s ability to track production, improve processes and define characteristics shape that identity. The key is for Weber Automotive to maintain its identity while working its processes as smartly as possible.
"It’s like a little jigsaw puzzle of making everything come together seamlessly and give value to the customer," Chow-Wah says. "But we also want to know everything about the components we produce and bring in equipment and processes that are relatively simple. We don’t want a lot of complexity or inventory in our operations, we want things to be smooth flowing."
The company also is stressing the development of everyone in the operation, and it is trying to foster the development of journeymen in North America with its apprenticeship program. Weber Automotive’s Michigan facility has partnered with a local community college to attract and develop new tradesmen, teach them the Weber manufacturing system and integrate them as part of the team. It is focusing on the most important aspects of the trade that provide Weber Automotive with the most benefit and its customer with the most value.
"Man, machine and material – the three have to fit together," Chow-Wah says. "On the machinery, equipment and process side, we are trying to standardize and become more flexible so we can react and respond to customers’ needs quickly. On the people side, skilled people reduce the complexity for training. We can create a skill matrix for every machine, and as you go up the chain, the machine technologists are more skilled and knowledgeable. In the past, we went for people who were skilled at the top, but we found the need to develop our in-house apprenticeship program so we can develop them for the Weber way and the Weber equipment."
The Right Relationships
In the past few years, the Weber Automotive has doubled in size, and although it "took a pause" to digest this growth and execute a plan, Quarrier says, now it is ready to take on more growth. The operation is looking for opportunities around the globe, while always making sure it can deliver quality and provide customers with value. He notes the team in place makes all of these plans very enjoyable.
"As the industry matures at the current economic rate, programs don’t go on forever," Quarrier says. "We need to maintain our economic efficiencies so if a partner comes to us and says ‘how are you looking into 2023?’ we can be competitive in our answer."
The customer base includes OEMs, suppliers of OEMs and other parts of the supply chain, Chow-Wah explains, so Weber Automotive is focused on remaining flexible to meet all of these needs. "This is a 50-year-old company with a rich history and perfection in the precision powertrain machining business, but we’ve only had a short life in the United States," he says. "With our history and our customer base, we have built a lot of product for applications that range from niche high-end luxury vehicles to components for high-volume manufacturers. It’s about finding the right business relationships for us."
Quarrier agrees. "Our portfolio is from sports cars to luxury cars to large diesel machines and heavy-duty trucks carrying huge payloads, to snowmobiles," he says. "It’s limitless for us in terms of what kind of product, raw material or industry our components are consumed in. We are making opportunities with our manufacturing availability and using our engineering and manufacturing prowess to forward our success in the North American market and, ultimately, the eastern side of the world, as well." mt