Big part for Lucas at Skoda

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LUCAS, the British car parts supplier, is showing the way ahead in Europe with a revolutionary manufacturing scheme in the Czech Republic. In one of the first instances of 'modular assembly', the company is responsible for an entire section of the car inside the main Skoda assembly plant at Mlada Boleslav.

All big car manufacturers are planning the integration of suppliers directly into the production process as the key to the low-cost 'lean factory' of the future. So far, most of the ideas are only at the discussion stage. One of the best known is the revolutionary 'dream factory' of Jose Ignacio Lopez de Arriortua, Volkswagen's production specialist, which aims to make a car out of pre-assembled modules from suppliers in under 10 hours.

At Mlada Boleslav, Lucas is putting together the whole rear axle system for Skoda, a Volkswagen subsidiary.

'The revolutionary aspect is that we have full responsibility within the Skoda works for this whole part of the car, from technical improvement, and purchasing the 42 pieces from other suppliers in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Germany, to assembling it,' Peter Kurtenbach, director of marketing of car braking systems at Lucas, said.

Through its joint-venture partner, Lucas-Autobrzdy, the British company has leased part of the Skoda works, put in its own machinery and workforce, and is putting together the rear axle alongside the Skoda production line.

'We expect the next step from 1996 to be assembling our part of the car directly with our own workers on the main production line,' Mr Kurtenbach said.

Given the success of the pilot scheme, which it says has improved costs and quality, Lucas- Autobrzdy is now bidding for responsibility for making the front axle as well as the drive system for the new Skoda.