ACME, Mich. — Digital manufacturing technology is changing life on the automotive factory floor, executives said at a conference panel today.
Among other things, makers of cars and trucks are looking to expand their use of 3D printing, learning to work with small startup companies and seeking talent with new skills.
“Additive manufacturing is a huge priority,” said Mike Mikula, chief engineering of advanced manufacturing at Ford Motor Co., “Additive manufacturing, for the right part, it’s a legitimate alternative today.”
Mikula spoke during a panel at the Center for Automotive Research’s annual Management Briefing Seminars held near Traverse City, Mich.
Mikula supervises Ford’s $45 million Advanced Manufacturing Center in the Detroit suburb of Redford. About half of the facility is taken up by 3D printers, which are being tested by Dearborn, Mich.-based Ford for use in vehicle production. With additive manufacturing, parts are printed from a digital design.
The industry also is embracing various forms of advanced manufacturing. Industry 4.0, which includes “connected” machines which communicate with each other. Data produced by such machines are used to conduct preventative maintenance and reduce downtime. Digital replicas are being used in design. Augmented reality simulations have become a tool to boost production efficiency.
‘Flexible and Connected’
“Factories of the future have to be flexible and connected,” David Johnson, vice president of manufacturing engineering at Nissan North America, said at the same session.
Nissan is among automakers using digital manufacturing for preventative maintenance. The company has redeployed engineers to find other ways to accelerate the adoption of advanced manufacturing, Johnson said.
The company also is working more with small startups with digital expertise. “We’re dealing with companies that are five people, 10 people,” Johnson said. “We traditionally haven’t dealt with startups.” The automaker also is seeking data scientists and computer engineers as employees.
What’s more, Nissan also is having older “legacy” employees collaborate with younger, more tech-savvy workers, Johnson said.
Digital technology also is causing automakers to reconsider relations with suppliers.
“Suppliers are the largest part of manufacturing than ever before,” Mikula said. Automakers have to share data with suppliers. “There is a lot of concern how the data is shared,” he said.
At Nissan, “We’re pulling best practices from the supplier,” Johnson said. “They are much more nimbler and streamlined” when it comes to digital, he said.