Doubling down on digital manufacturing

One company’s journey to IIoT started before the concept had a name.

By Bob Vavra, Content Manager, Plant Engineering August 10, 2017

Derek Harper didn’t know what to call the change that was coming at Faurecia. He just knew that change was needed.

A $21 billion global Tier 1 automotive manufacturer, Faurecia was a lot like most manufacturers in 2015—a paper and spreadsheet based organization that experienced tremendous growth in the last 20 years. With the growth came complexity, but in general, there was a sense that things were going fine.

But fine wasn’t quite good enough.

So company management launched an effort to digitize what it called the Faurecia Excellence System, an existing manufacturing protocol that standardizes best practices around the globe. The basic concept was to connect machines to a common data management system. If that sounds a lot like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), that’s because it is. What Faurecia focused on was not what the process was called, but what they needed it to do.

“I think Faurecia definitely saw the need, but it’s not simple, because nobody had architected it as yet,” said Harper, the company’s vice president of information technology for North America. “A lot of it was understanding that the tools were out there. Even if we weren’t using the popular terms of IIoT or Industrie 4.0, we were moving toward digitizing optimization. It was clear to the company that we needed to be more efficient, and we needed to be more competitive.

“The company leadership truly saw the promise of digital optimization if we were to implement it correctly,” Harper said. “They saw it is the future of manufacturing, and they doubled down on getting it implemented.”

A common system

Faurecia makes complete seats, seating components, vehicle interiors. and emission control technology for some of the world’s leading automobile manufacturers. One in every three cars worldwide contain at least one of Faurecia’s products. With more than 260 plants and a little more than 100,000 employees worldwide, Faurecia’s size and scope is impressive.

With that size comes all the trappings of any successful company, including the sense that change is difficult and work processes are deeply entrenched.

That’s why Harper said that leadership’s focus on the idea and importance of change was the first step in Faurecia’s digital manufacturing efforts. “The digital transformation was communicated from the CEO on down,” Harper said. “It was clearly explained in every town hall meeting and in every communication that was sent out. It’s clearly pushed and supported, and that helps us as we execute the transformation. The company put out some pretty clear expectations, and they expect implementation.”

When the process began in 2015 Faurecia collected more than 200 possible initiatives and narrowed that down to 42 proofs of concept that were pursued. By 2016, four digital streams were created within the company, each running in parallel and each tied into the overall Faurecia Excellence System.

The systems were:

1. Digital operations: Company standards were issued around several technologies:

  • Automation: Automated Guide Vehicles (AGVs), robots, and cobots
  • Digital Management Control, designed to create a paperless shop floor
  • Machine intelligence and predictive maintenance
  • Traceability: Built around implementing RFID and other product tracking systems
  • Logistics optimization
  • Plant maintenance monitoring
  • A light guided system

2. Digital HR and communications: The company knew that training and communications would be a key element at each step of the process. Among the steps the company implemented were:

  • Faurecia University. Focused on delivering common training materials to employees worldwide.
  • Project PASS. Standardized HR files worldwide and simplified the processes for employees to connect to company software, thus streamlining administration.
  • Social networking. Called Faur’us (pronounced ‘for us’), the network now has 17,000 members and 5,000 active users each week. 
  • Improved Digital Communications. Included moving to WebEx for external audio and video conferencing and Skype for Business for internal chats.

        3. Digitization of sales and programs: This included a customer relationship management (CRM) tool as well as a system of program KPIs. The system was rolled out to the sales team in February. Digitizing all of these systems is the next step for the sales team.

        4. A digital R&D process: This automatically linked design, engineering, manufacturing and a production bill of materials in a true product lifecycle management system.

        It’s in the digital operations area that Faurecia has run up against two disparate departments try to find a common language and a common purpose: IT and OT. As an IT professional, Harper understands the challenge.

        “It comes down to ownership; the OT is owned by engineering and the IT is owned by IT teams. Convergence continues to be a challenge. We’re still working through it.

        “One of the things we’ve started to do create positions within the IT organizations to look at controls side and interact with those teams,” he added. “We want to make sure there’s an understanding of what we require from IT. We continue to see a bit of a crossover the other way, with controls engineers migrating to IT.”

        Meeting challenges head-on

        With change comes friction, and part of the Faurecia process is to recognize the resistance and work toward it rather than around it. “One thing that helps is the leadership’s acceptance at the plant level. The plant leadership really drive the success of the project. Plants that have strong leadership really embrace it. No two ways about it. Instead of us pushing it, they are pulling for it.

        “Some people in some plants are more open than others,” he added. “There’s occasional resistance. That’s natural, and can be due to a lot of different reasons. You’re pushing change, and some people are resistant to that.”

        Even so, Faurecia’s course is charted, and they already have some success stories. For example, they’ve begun automating the scheduling of their components in plants, a process done in spreadsheets in the past. “The workers turn on the technology and see the output of work and compare it what they do on a day-to-day basis,” Harper said. “They’ve taken something very manual and Excel-based and automated it. They’re helping us with vetting the applications.

        “We have adapted and tweaked the program to help the operators,” he added. “The end game is to make the operator’s job more efficient, and to take in their ideas and concepts. That iterative approach makes a difference.”

        Moving toward IIoT

        While Faurecia has been reinventing its operation, the concept of IIoT has exploded all around them. The challenges they face are textbook examples of IIoT deployment. But Faurecia story isn’t from a textbook; it’s from a living laboratory.

        One area of improvement has been the creation a truer measurement of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and sharing that measurement with the manufacturing teams. “That data will be more accessible to our workforce,” Harper said. “In the past, OEE was a very manually intensive number to get. This information is very important for our teams to be able to make data-driven decisions.”

        Harper said the company’s digital transformation is still gaining steam, but adds the IIoT technologies being developed offer opportunities to move their journey along.

        “I think there are possibilities that we aren’t even aware of today that are extensive,” he added. “As algorithms continue to improve and cloud-based software continues to improve, the possibilities with this connectivity are endless.”

        By the Numbers:

        Faurecia at a glance:

        A global automobile equipment manufacturer, Faurecia manufactures seating, interiors, and emission control devices for auto manufacturers around the world. Here’s a look at the company:

        • 34 countries
        • 15.9 billion euro in sales
        • 103,000 global employees
        • 330 locations
        • 6,000 engineers involved in R&D
        • 30 R&D centers
        • 65% of sales are focused on four manufacturers: Volkswagen, Ford, Renault Nissan, and the PSA Group, which manufactures European brands Peugeot and Citroen, among others.

        Source: Faurecia.

        Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant