Automotive Industry Automation Leaders Speak

  • April 15, 2013
  • Feature

Manufacturing in America Symposium

By Bill Lydon, Editor

Siemens and Electro-Matic hosted the Manufacturing in America Symposium on March 20-21, 2013 at Ford Field in Detroit, Michigan. The event offered a wide range of automation information and learning opportunities. Executives, technology leaders, automation engineers, and industry experts shared thoughts, insights and experience. The Summit included a one day Automotive Manufacturing Summit, technical sessions, and product trade fair.  During the two days there were over 34 technical seminars and 24 vendors on the exhibition floor.

Raj Batra, President of the Industry Automation Division of Siemens, opened the Summit by discussing the changes in the industry and proposed the notion that, “Manufacturing in no longer about brawn over brains.” Batra suggested that manufacturing has fundamentally become knowledge work requiring highly skilled employees with very specific training.  He challenged attendees by saying, “The future is ours to invent.”

Need More Controls Engineers

Michael Bastian, Global Controls Manager at Ford Motor Company (Powertrain Division), made the case for more controls engineers to improve results. Bastian’s experience indicates that controls impact all elements of the business, particularly for engineering and operations at manufacturing plants. Factors driving the need for more engineers include more complex automation, parallel path processes, CNC machines, complex product assembly, safety, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and requirements to satisfy a wide range of government regulations around the world.

The increasing need for more plant floor information to be communicated to MES from control systems means proper programing and system configuration by control engineers. He also stressed that automation and IT people need to have strong relationships. In his organization, this has resulted in more successful launches and improved data integrity. Bastian commented that they are struggling with obsolescence worldwide in an environment where replacements need to be accomplished while production is running.

Other key issues highlighted by Bastian include:

Over the last 5 years, Ford has been making the switch from standalone safety controls to integrated safety in PLC and CNC.  Bastian said, “This has really added a layer of complexity in software that we are just figuring out how to deal with and it has also challenged our tier one suppliers…”

Ford is driving standard software solutions to tier-one suppliers, which in turn pushes them to the tier-two suppliers. Standards are essential for a global manufacturer.

The adoption of Ethernet has benefits but the line between IT and control strategy has been getting “grayer and grayer.” He suggests you need well defined and agreed upon lines of demarcation.

Malware and cyber security is a big issue that requires improved technology and better ways to manage.

The requirements for more manufacturing flexibility means more controls engineering design effort and increasing the number of control devices.

Greater levels of complexity make systems integration more challenging.

Wireless applications have been a struggle and he plans on focusing on this in the next couple of years.

Since IT network connectivity is becoming vital for production, the networks need to be robust and high availability.

Control and automation is fundamental to achieve the demands for quality control.

Bastian observed there are big potential breakthroughs in robotics. This includes full dexterity, integrated vision, and advanced software, but in his opinion, it is not ready for prime time.

Since tier-one and tier-two suppliers’ business has been growing globally, he is observing a bandwidth issue where everyone is running out of floor space and engineers. “They are getting tapped out,” said Bastion, referring to suppliers. Because of this stress, tier-one and tier-two suppliers do not have resources to focus on the important task of improvements and cost reductions. Control engineers are in short supply. “We can’t get enough of them at Ford and the tier-one suppliers can’t get enough of them,” said Bastian. They are working on improvements in recruiting but there are just not enough people in the market.  Bastian commented that convincing a graduating electrical engineer from a major college to work in a plant as a controls engineer is a tough proposition.  He also points out that there is no degree in manufacturing control engineering so developing new talent requires 3-5 years of on the job training.

Throughout his presentation Bastian stressed that in order to have a successful global manufacturing strategy requires more control and automation engineers.

Global vs. International Supplier

Raymond P. Caillé, Global Process Manager of Machine Controls at General Motors, started his presentation by stating he seconded everything Michael Bastian presented because they have the same issues at General Motors.

Caillé then discussed the rational they use to identify and work with global suppliers rather than international suppliers. He defined a global supplier as an organization that acts as one company rather than many subdivided companies, able to leverage resources in all regions of the world for quick response. This includes a range of things down to common part numbers worldwide. General Motors requires one corporate contact that speaks for the total global supplier.  In addition, General Motors requires local support people that develop relationships with plants. He stressed that suppliers need to listen to the customer, be a solution provider, and problem solver. Other features that distinguish these suppliers include:

  • Complete and Proven Product Line (“I don’t need a little piece here, a little piece there…”)
  • Global Footprint
  • Demonstrated Global Program Support
  • Demonstrated Local Site Support
  • OEMs to General Motors supported as a preferred suppliers
  • General Motors NACCL and GACL Approved and Listed Products

General Motors expects local support and training at plant sites worldwide including lunch & learns, onsite training, and onsite service support. Caillé emphasized that suppliers work for the end user, in his case General Motors, and everyone that interfaces with them should be an advocate for the end user. The person at the top of the supplier company needs to be supportive to insure the customer’s needs are satisfied and this must be consistent worldwide. Caillé emphasized that he tells tier-two program managers, “When you are in my walls you represent your company, when you are within your company’s wall you represent me.”  “You need to be my ombudsman - you need the power to shake the walls.” General Motors expects that tier-two suppliers will understand the requirements and specifications provided to the tier-one suppliers. In some cases, General Motors engages with tier-two suppliers to work on the approval drawings from the tier-one suppliers.

Caillé stressed that you can have the greatest engineers in the back office but if you don’t listen to the voice of the customer, the end user and plants, you are doomed to fail. The people working at all levels need to develop relationships on a personal level to make a global supplier effective.

Thoughts & Observations

It is refreshing to have presentations by people of the caliber of Michael Bastian and Raymond Caillé about real world issues and solutions.

Lack of automation and controls engineers may one of the biggest bottlenecks stifling the growth of manufacturing.

There is not a silver bullet for success. The fundamentals still apply - suppliers need to have reliable, state-of-the-art products, solid support, and above all, they need to listen to customers.

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