Brian Krull, global director of innovation for Magna International Inc.'s Magna Exteriors business, has seen a lot of new technology developed in the auto industry.
Prior to his first visit to NPE, which took place in May in Orlando, Fla., Krull said he was looking forward to seeing what is new outside of Detroit and the other traditional automaker and supplier communities.
"Being that this is my first visit, I am generally excited to see a show where all aspects of the plastics industry come together in an exhibition," he said. "Sometimes inspiration comes from unlikely places, like other industries, which may not be available to me other than through an event like this."
Now 38, Krull worked with Meridian Automotive systems, which specialized in exterior and structural plastics for the auto industry, from 2004-2009, when it was acquired by Magna. He joined Magna during the acquisition, starting as senior product engineer. In 2014, he was named manager of product and process development, where he was responsible for advanced product engineering and worked with other Magna groups on new technologies and innovations.
Now as global director of innovation for the group, "I lead the development and implementation of strategies to inspire and significantly strengthen a culture of collaboration and innovation across our organization," he said.
Q: What are your main goals/needs related to attending NPE this year?
Krull: As director of innovation, I'll be looking for new developments in materials and enabling processes for potential use in our global facilities.
Q: Will Industry 4.0 be something of interest, either for Magna or for the auto industry as a whole going forward?
Krull: Through its world-class manufacturing initiatives, Magna Exteriors is aligned globally with industry 4.0 standards. Several of our smart factories have been featured in the media and in industry conferences, including those in Meerane, Germany, and Toledo, Ohio.
Industry 4.0 is also very important to Magna overall, as we are supporting 67 percent of all vehicle launches globally from 2017 to 2019, and flawless launches are critical to our customers.
Q: What's your strategy for networking at events? How much time do you schedule, how much time do you leave for finding new things? Do you enjoy the networking part?
Krull: Networking is key to uncovering new opportunities. I make time at all events to connect with colleagues and partners and to meet new people engaged in similar business endeavors. Enjoy might be a strong word, but I am comfortable networking and certainly find it very valuable.
Q: What trends are you seeing in your part of the automotive market?
Krull: In the automotive exteriors market, we're seeing a tremendous focus on advanced materials, especially as they can enable future mobility. For example, lightweight composites can help offset added weight that comes from electrification. Also, as we move toward autonomy, sensor integration becomes increasingly important, and Magna is leading the way.
Q: Will composites — either in manufacturing or materials — be of big interest at NPE?
Krull: Absolutely. As a leader in lightweighting and composites, Magna researches, develops and implements new materials to help automakers lower emissions and improve fuel economy without sacrificing styling and performance. We've been successful in bringing innovative lightweight composite materials to market and are poised to continue our leadership in this area. We're open to new materials and processes that we can consider and implement around and throughout the entire vehicle that enable automotive applications and commercialization in new and unexpected ways.
Q: Do customers ask about plastics and sustainability? What do you tell them?
Krull: All of our customers ask about plastics and sustainability. We tell them no one is better positioned to help them meet their goals. We have several demonstrated successes using thermoplastics in manufacturing. For example, we recently launched one of the largest-volume, fully recyclable thermoplastic liftgates on the Jeep Cherokee.
These liftgate modules achieve up to 25 percent mass savings over steel versions and are delivered as complete assemblies to the customer. This trend toward thermoplastic liftgates will certainly continue with the global growth of CUVs and SUVs.
Q: What do you think will be the main talking points at NPE this year?
Krull: I expect autonomy and how composites will enable advancements in this area to be top of mind for most visitors and exhibitors.
Q: How will you gauge whether this show is successful, whether the trip was worthwhile?
Krull: I'll consider it successful if I walk away with a few new ideas and some inspiration to dig into a new material or process a little deeper. I'd also like to make connections that could lead to future partnerships and/or business.