Innovation in the Driver’s Seat at Adient

Innovation in the Driver’s Seat at Adient

Automotive supplier Adient delivers its car seats to any customer anywhere in the world as a just-in-time supplier – and provides seats in 19 million vehicles a year. To ensure that international borders do not slow down these sophisticated logistics and supply chain processes, the company relies on a new customs management platform from AEB.

A laser-like focus on service and the customer has made Adient a dominant player in the industry. Today, the company is part of the supply chain of all major car and truck manufacturers. 
To keep its delivery promises, the automotive supplier has a network of more than 200 strategically located manufacturing and assembly facilities around the globe. “We always stay very close to our customers,” explains Christian Schmidt, Director of Global Customs and Trade Compliance at Adient in EMEA. “The seats we ship to our customers in EMEA are rarely an export – even if the parts needed to build them come from around the world.”

Key to success: efficient customs processes

That’s why Adient’s success depends so heavily on the smooth supply of its own production facilities – and on smooth global trade processes: “Customs clearance and management are top priorities,” Christian Schmidt emphasizes.

When Christian Schmidt joined Adient in 2016, customs processes in the EMEA region were largely decentralized. Each plant was responsible for its own customs clearance and outsourced this to external customs brokers, who then often subcontracted the customs declarations to various providers.
The seat maker engaged more than 80 brokers – and directly or indirectly over 150 authorized agents – for its customs activities. “Adient hadn’t integrated any of these service providers into its system environment, communicating and placing orders instead using email and document attachments. Brokers and subcontractors always had to manually re-enter all the data from these emails and files into their own systems,” explains Stephanie Schober, Senior Customs Specialist and Project Manager at Adient.

Christian Schmidt adds: “This largely manual process of exchanging data with our customs brokers was not only prone to error, it also cost more – because the brokerages passed along the costs, of course.”

But what concerned him even more than the cost: “We didn’t have the big picture of our customs activities. Above all, we lacked data.” And data, he notes, is the basis for sustainable optimization measures – to create new services, innovate using new technologies, etc.

The solution is digital

Christian Schmidt and his team got to work to realize his vision for Adient’s customs management: Seamless customs and efficient Trade Compliance – in a digital age. “The idea was to digitize and automate wherever possible and feasible to create seamless, efficient global trade processes.” 

It was precisely this vision that impressed Uwe Henning, Director of International Business Development at AEB, when he met Christian Schmidt in 2017. The two were of one mind when it came to the future role of digital solutions in customs management: They agreed that digital technology should be employed wherever possible to lower costs and transform what were still largely manual processes into transparent, user-friendly workflows. Digital customs management must take a hybrid approach, encompassing not only internal organization but also, above all, communications with the customs authorities and customs brokers.

1,600-point plan for greater efficiency

On the way toward seamless customs and efficient trade compliance, an optimization plan encompassing more than 1,600 points was developed. One of the first points was to reduce the number of customs brokers to a reasonable level.
Another key point was to establish the appropriate IT support. Adient developed its own “Just Trade” platform to optimize its internal customs processes, digitizing and streamlining how the company’s customs teams collaborated and how they interfaced with other departments. A lot of the communication previously had been done by phone and email.

Global Customs Management with AEB

AEB software supports the smooth flow of goods across borders while generating savings. Learn more about solutions for customs processes including import, export, origin and preferences, broker integration, supplier's declarations, and product classification. In the cloud or integrated in your ERP.

Hybrid platform for customs communication

AEB came into play for the processes around external customs communications. “Building on our standard solutions, we designed a hybrid customs platform for Adient that handles communications with customs authorities when direct filing is used and with customs brokers for indirect filing,” explains Tabea Wosnitza, who managed the project at AEB.

So far, Adient uses direct filing only for its exports from Germany. “The high degree of automation available through the AEB software helps us with the large volumes of customs declarations,” Christian Schmidt explains. The plan is to add imports to Germany starting in 2021. When Adient wants to use direct filing in a new market, the country in question and its customs processes can be integrated into the AEB platform.
In most countries, Adient continues to rely on the services of customs brokers. “

We have some countries that account for only 50 transactions. Highly automated direct filing is not worth the effort here. But connecting our customs service providers to the platform gives us seamless processes with smooth data interchange. And by combining our own Just Trade platform with the AEB solution, we achieve a high level of automation,” explains Schmidt.

When Adient begins working with a new broker, it’s easy to integrate the broker into the platform. One major benefit: Adient essentially has one-click access to customs service providers belonging to the AEB Trusted Broker Partner Program. “We’ve vetted these providers to ensure they meet key quality criteria and have already connected them to our solutions,” says Uwe Henning. The trusted brokers are distinguished by their technical expertise, financial stability, multilingual capabilities, and a good reputation with the relevant foreign customs authorities.

Schematic overview of Adient's IT-landscape

More data, more transparency – and lower costs

“In the end, what we did with our solutions is create a customized platform where Adient can consolidate its direct filing and broker customs processes,” recalls Wosnitza. The high degree of automation that AEB’s software brought to direct filing customs processes allowed the car seat maker cut its costs in many countries.

Adient was also able to save on fees by largely automating the integration of the remaining brokers. And thanks to the AEB Trusted Broker network, Adient can quickly find and begin working with new customs service providers without investing a lot of time and resources in finding brokers, running quality checks, negotiating contracts, and getting them connected to their systems.

Data as the key to success

More importantly, the AEB solution makes all the customs declaration data available through a single platform. “The AEB platform gives us visibility of all our customs declarations around the world, regardless of whether we’re self-filing or filing through a broker,” Stephanie Schober explains. A dashboard offers complete visibility of every movement of goods. Whenever there’s a hiccup with customs at any border, Adient is immediately notified. “ In the end, the automation of customs has made it possible to enhance our supply chain performance and lower our risk profile,” Schmidt explains.

The consolidated data has also made it possible for Schmidt and his team to generate rigorous analyses, identify patterns for predictive planning, and ultimately make better decisions. “The data lays the groundwork for harnessing technologies and applications such as artificial intelligence, which in turn open the door to even greater security and efficiency in the future,” says Christian Schmidt.

Collaboration among peers

There was more to the project with AEB than its happy ending. At Adient, the shared journey is remembered fondly. “Our partnership was very well organized and transparent,” says Stephanie Schober. “We all knew exactly where we had started out and what the solution would look like. So we kept our eyes on the prize and steered the project to get there.”

Zuzana Satkova, Senior Customs Manager at Adient in Slovakia, sees it similarly. She has worked in customs management for two decades and agrees with Christian Schmidt that customs processes need to go digital wherever possible. “AEB and its solutions fit well to our vision and our plans. I was impressed by how open and motivated they were to work with us on the project.”

How the AEB customs platform at Adient works

Adient’s centralized customs platform runs in the Stuttgart data center of AEB. In countries where direct filing is used, the software lets Adient communicate directly with the systems of the customs authorities. AEB automatically updates the software to reflect changes to the law, such as new customs requirements.

How the solution works

The AEB solution first takes any relevant order or shipping data from Adient’s Just Trade system and applies it to the customs declaration, then uses smart algorithms to automatically complete any required data for a particular process that is still missing.

Once the customs declaration is complete, the AEB platform handles communications with the national customs authorities and transmits the data directly. It takes country-specific requirements into account and checks to make sure the data is complete and plausible before transmitting the customs declaration.

The response messages from customs are automatically imported and assigned to the right transaction. Once the customs office has issued its release, the solution generates the export accompanying document and other necessary documentation.

Seamless integration of customs brokers

When customs declarations are submitted indirectly, the AEB software prepares all the necessary data and transmits it to Adient’s customs brokers. Brokers receive the customs declarations right in their system and can submit them directly from there. Once the declaration is complete, the broker sends customs assessments, proofs of exit, and other data back to the platform. “The data is synced automatically and almost in real time in both directions,” emphasizes Uwe Henning. The AEB solution then transfers the necessary data to Adient’s ERP system.

The result is similar to direct filing – despite the fact that a broker is involved: an end-to-end digital process that’s faster and more transparent with fewer errors.

In addition, the customs broker can provide Adient with export accompanying documents, tax notices, and other important documents linked directly to a transaction. “It’s all right there on the platform and ready to use in downstream processes,” says Henning.