Traverse City, Mich. — Industry 4.0 is more than a buzzword. For a rapidly changing auto industry, 4.0 increasingly is about long-term survival.
To compete as both an automaker and supplier, companies must embrace manufacturing practices that allow them to be flexible, executives said again and again at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars, held July 30-Aug. 2 in Traverse City. And the technology within 4.0 provides that ability to shift production quickly.
"It's not that industry is growing [in volume] in North America; it's that you have all kinds of different entrants and different models, so the number of programs out there has really required us to be much more flexible," said Nathan Bowen, vice president and general manager for the Americas for Yanfeng Global Automotive Interior Systems Co. Ltd.
Fifteen or even 10 years ago, the auto industry used to gear up manufacturing plants to turn out 250,000 vehicles of a certain platform each year. Now 50,000 of the same model is more typical.
Suppliers are not the only companies that need to shift quickly. Consider Toyota Motor Corp., which first began building a new plant in Guanajuato, Mexico, to make sedans in 2016. But before it even opened, the automaker looked at its shifting sales in North America and said the site would instead make Tacoma trucks.
From the start, though, Toyota de Mexico President Mike Bafan said it planned the site from the ground up to be flexible.
"It could be used for trucks, cars or thingamajigs. It doesn't matter," he said. "We have to be able to manufacture whatever we need to."
To make money in this environment, suppliers like Yanfeng need to be able to swap out molds quickly, use automation, have workers trained for a more digital workplace and take advantage of computerized visual inspection systems.