Digital technologies transform manufacturing
Faurecia is changing its global manufacturing operations and setting the stage for producing autonomous vehicle parts and subsystems.
Automotive companies are facing a double whammy; they must devise products for tomorrow’s autonomous vehicles while making the transition to digital manufacturing. While driverless cars represent long-term issues, embracing digital manufacturing and linking equipment to the Internet is already happening at many major corporations.
Faurecia, the sixth largest automotive Tier 1 supplier by latest estimates, is moving forward on both fronts. Earlier this year, the French company teamed up with ZF to “develop disruptive and differentiating interior and safety technologies for autonomous driving.” This strategic partnership augments internal efforts and ongoing work in an autonomous partnership with Stanford University’s Center for Design Research.
Corporate strategists are revamping manufacturing operations throughout its global facilities, partially to meet the new demands of autonomous vehicles. Faurecia’s transformation into a digital enterprise, based on Web-based concepts commonly called Industrie 4.0, began in 2015. Speaking at the recent Assembly Show in Rosemont, IL, keynoter Gene Hopkins explained that planning a communications structure that links information technology and operating technology systems was a necessary first step in the program.
“It’s a mistake to think of Industrie 4.0 as an information-technology problem,” said Hopkins, Director of Applications at Faurecia North America’s IT Department. “IT things need to happen; you need an infrastructure and standards like enterprise resource planning (ERP). You’ve also got to have operations, manufacturing, and financing in place. You’ve got to understand the manufacturing hardware on your production line and know what your target is.”
At one facility, the target was to reduce scrap by 20%. Hopkins noted that once targets are set, planners can determine what tools are needed to meet the goals. Faurecia has more than 103,000 employees in 330 locations, so standards were an important part of the planning.
“You need standards or you’ll end up with 330 different interfaces that will be impossible to support,” Hopkins said. “Sometimes, I think it’s easier to build systems than to maintain them. The guys who built this probably won’t be there by the time it’s implemented and sustained, so you’ve got to have standards in hardware and software.”
While it’s important to plan around standards, that’s not an end-all. Standards are like any other aspect of the design, they need to be modified and revised as technologies and corporate requirements change.
The program began with 42 proof-of-concept projects. Planners knew some wouldn’t work, but weren’t sure which ones were destined for failure. The planning team eventually identified four digital streams, making them the basis for a sustainable program that can be used for several years. The move to digital eliminates most paper, using all digital data to improve efficiency by employing standardized technologies like radio frequency identification (RFID) and digital management control standards.
The factories that will build parts and subsystems for autonomous vehicles will make use of the concepts, employing autonomous and automated guided vehicles that carry goods and tools through the factory. In the Columbus, IN, plant that underwent a $64 million upgrade, self-learning autonomous intelligent vehicles transport component parts, traveling 73 mi (117 km) while moving 17,300 pallets daily.
Workers are also using augmented reality, wearing glasses that help guide them through steps of tasks they’re not familiar with. Data analytics will be employed to help anticipate future breakdowns on the plant floor, using predictive maintenance to reduce unplanned downtime. Faurecia partnered with SAP to develop techniques for getting data from all its facilities into the cloud so it can be analyzed to improve efficiency.
“We want to make data available worldwide so the president in North America can see what’s happening in all plants and drill down to an individual plant, then drill down to a production line,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins noted that using the cloud was frightening at the outset, since he no longer had control of security. That’s proven not to be a concern, he said.