Faurecia decided it needed to get serious about Industry 4.0 fast. To show the way, the French automotive supplier built a $64 million factory in Columbus, IN. The factory will make anti-pollution systems for Cummins Inc., supplying a nearby plant for the truck engine maker.
For example, Faurecia’s Columbus South operation includes autonomous intelligent vehicles (AIVs) to take parts to the assembly line. They’re a step up from automated guided vehicles (AGVs), which have been around factories for decades.
AGVs traveled along designed routes on the factory floor to deliver or pick up parts. AIVs are “self-learning,” with the ability to automatically adjust their routes to get around obstructions or people in their way.
“The AIV, if it approaches an obstacle in its path, will pause,” said Dave DeGraaf, president of the company’s North American emissions control technologies unit. If the object “doesn’t move, it will find a way around it. That way the material doesn’t stop. The material continues to flow.”
Also, the AIV “will communicate to the AIV behind it to say, ‘Hey follow this route.’ Eventually, say that obstacle is moved. The next AIV comes in to where that obstacle was will sense it’s not there. ‘OK, we’re all clear.’ Eventually it gets back to the preferred route.”
The AIVs are supplied by Swisslog, part of the KUKA Group.
There is also data collection, computerized tracking of parts and real-time monitoring of production efficiency and quality.
Columbus South is intended to be the blueprint for future Faurecia factories, and at least some of its systems will be adapted to existing plants.
Taking a risk
“There’s risk for doing what we’re doing for sure,” Mark Stidham, president of Faurecia’s North America unit in Auburn Hills, MI, said in a recent interview at Columbus South. “There had to be a willingness to take that risk and overcome the obstacles that we’re going to have to overcome.”
At Faurecia, Stidham said, “There was energy with the top management to do something that was taking us to the next level from a manufacturing standpoint. There was energy from within this business group to do it.”
“There’s data collection the entire process,” DeGraaf said. “That data is stored and retained. That way, if there ever is an issue out in the field we can go back all the way to the day it was made, the time it was made, the shift it was made and track all the way back to the parameters of the equipment and how it was running that day.”
Faurecia held an open house for the plant early in October. The factory went into production early this year. Columbus was selected as the site for the new operation for several reasons.
History in Columbus
In 2010, Faurecia acquired Emcon Technologies LLC. Faurecia’s emission control technologies unit, known as FECT, was based in Toledo, OH, while Emcon had an operation in Columbus. Faurecia opted to consolidate in Indiana. Faurecia had another plant, as well as a technology center, in Columbus. Stidham ran FECT from 2003 to 2015 before he was promoted.
Faurecia already did business with Cummins, which is also based in Columbus. Thus, the two had a relationship and Faurecia was selected to supply the emissions control system.
“This plant, the need for capacity in Columbus was absolutely based on our proximity to Columbus,” Stidham said. “Cummins is doing the system integration. The partnership is a benchmark for what a partnership should be. We bring manufacturing scale. We build millions of these components in light vehicle applications every year. We bring scale, knowledge, technology.”
Faurecia’s emission-controls group supplies such vehicles as Ford Motor Co.’s Mustang, General Motors Co.’s Chevrolet Colorado pickup and Nissan Motor Co.’s Titan truck.
With the project, management of the automotive supplier decided it needed to step up its digital manufacturing.
“The products we’re building require very finely tuned, welded components that come together in a very precise way,” Stidham said.
So, Faurecia opted to boost its digital manufacturing capabilities with the new 400,000 ft2 (37,161 m2) factory.
“We believe that it’s going to bring efficiency to us that at the end of the day is a better product, better quality and bring more to the bottom line,” Stidham said. “We couldn’t have done with our previous methods. We believe it’s going to be the right thing for the bottom line. It’s going to make us more competitive.”
Besides the AIVs, other factory features include the following:
- MicroMIG welding for inside sections of parts. A wire is fed into the welding device but is “pulsed,” or pulled back, 30 times a second so it’s not fed continuously. This reduces drops of weld spatter, according to Faurecia.
“One of critical aspects is weld spatter,” DeGraaf said. “You can get build ups and deposits with regard to the emissions passing through” the system.
In addition, he said, “It doesn’t generate as much heat and you don’t get as much thermal distortion in the part you’re welding.”
- Radio frequency identification systems, to track parts.
- 70″ (178 cm) touch screens that track such things as scrap, production efficiency and manufacturing costs. The week of the open house, data in a simulation showed the plant was operating at 56% efficiency compared with a target of 60%. The problem in the simulation was narrowed down to one part that was not being routed correctly.
- A “paperless environment,” which the company said is intended to keep employees connected to data being collected.
- Laser-scanning systems that track parts and determine if they are being made to specifications.
The plant has a full-time mathematician to mine and interpret data.
There are also plans for collaborative robots, which can work in close proximity to humans. Cobots have sensors that cause them to stop moving when they detect a human hand.
Columbus South doesn’t yet have cobots, said Tony Sapienza, a Faurecia spokesperson. “It’s part of our vision,” he said.
In the meantime, FANUC robots are being installed on the factory. For example, robots put parts into a machine to test for leaks.
Eventually, the plant will employ about 450 people and bring Faurecia’s area operations to more than 2000 employees.
The Columbus South workers are being trained to work in a different way. The employees will be manning multiple workstations and monitoring data constantly.
“The interface with the machine is going to be different,” DeGraaf said. “They need to understand the process between this technology and what I would say is the old technology. The training of the operator is going to be key, as well.
“In the older manufacturing world, you might react to a defect,” he said. “This is more of a proactive approach. We can monitor the inputs into the equipment. If the inputs are starting to go out of spec, that way we can take proactive measures.
“The other thing that’s very important for these operators to understand is because the data is real time throughout the plant, their input into the system is critically important.”
Preventing flaws is one reason why the plant will have a mathematician.
“He can look at some of the trends in that data,” DeGraaf said. “Maybe a part is starting to get on the high end of its tolerance. How does that impact the rest of the lines? If it’s going to run at the high end of the tolerance, is that going to be an issue continuously? Or is it something we can get back into tolerance?”
Executives also acknowledged the company has a lot riding on Columbus South.
“Anytime you go through a launch and you’re in the automotive and commercial vehicle business, there’s a lot of pressure,” DeGraaf said. “The challenge we have is being the lead… globally for Faurecia. We don’t have the resident expertise yet” in operating such an advanced factory.
“We’ve got few people and we’re growing that population and growing that capability,” he said. “Once this is up and running, we’ll be host to our fellow colleagues to come in and learn about this environment.
“Maybe they take a portion of it back to their facility,” he added. “Or maybe they take all of the applications to their facility.”
At future new factories, he said, “They can come in and take our lessons learned and maybe be better than we were.”