Faurecia breaks new ground in vehicle interiors
Banking on its design and engineering abilities, Faurecia’s India tech centre is investing in innovative engineering work that is helping clients worldwide, says Amit Panday.
Faurecia Interior System (FIS) was part of the French company’s global network tasked with catering to the requirements of the EcoSport. It first began by establishing a plant in Chennai in 2011 to mass manufacture the interior systems and finished components (instrument panel, door panels, central console, glovebox and others) for Ford’s upcoming compact SUV. Full-fledged manufacturing and supplies began in March 2013.
The EcoSport rolled out of the Chennai plant in mid-June and was launched 10 days later. All of them sport Faurecia-designed interior systems and door panels. “This is a global programme launched in Brazil, India, Russia and Thailand from where EcoSport SUVs are or would be made. The Chennai plant can cater to all of EcoSport’s specific requirements globally,” says Dilip K Bogawat, who has recently come on board at FIS as engineering director – India and Thailand.
He explains, “While our front-end team and Ford based in Brazil kept coordinating with our local teams here over day-to-day developments on design, modifications, customer requirements, and other areas, the Pune-based technical centre gave full-fledged support to the company to ensure that the India launch requirements were taken care of swiftly and with adequate supplies from our Chennai plant.”
Faurecia says it is not only the sixth largest automotive component supplier globally but No.1 in vehicle interior systems and No. 2 and No. 3 in automotive exterior systems and automotive seating systems respectively. With a total of 41 R&D centres around the world, Faurecia operates across four verticals – interior, exterior systems, seating and emission control technologies. The Pune-based technical centre is the largest for interior systems within Faurecia Group worldwide.
“We are a dedicated offshore centre for all sites across Europe and US. This means that we are a strategic partner for Europe specially in this downturn because most of the work gets delegated to optimise their costs,” says Jennifer Fernandes, director, FIS & India Human Resources. Faurecia globally outsources around 70 percent of its engineering and design activities on vehicle interiors from India to 21 countries, she adds.
FIS’s technical centre has close to 500 people working on automotive seating (70 engineers) and exterior systems (40 engineers) among other engineering verticals. Explaining the synergies between the teams, Bogawat told Autocar Professional, “While seating applications use nearly five percent of plastic composition, the interior uses up to 95 percent of plastic materials. Similarly, the exterior applications use plastic parts in a major way. Hence, there is a good synergy between the vehicle interior and exterior verticals and we move our engineering talent between the two verticals as per the need of the hour. On the other hand, automotive seating is a niche area where crucial materials include foam (40 percent of the cost), metals (45-50 percent of cost) and fabrics. To deal with these three core areas, one requires different skill sets as compared to the ones dealing with plastics. We have specially trained engineers working for us in the seating vertical and in another year’s time, we look at increasing our team strength to over 100 engineers.” “We hire an average of 80-100 engineers every year who undergo a rigorous programme conducted by Faurecia’s own India Engineering Academy,” adds Fernandes.
Faurecia’s technical centre runs three shifts that handle industrial design, CAD/CAE and product and process validation (PPV). The latter includes a pilot plant attached to the design centre that can develop real-time prototypes for validation processes. According to the company officials, the success rate of a prototype developed in the pilot plant is nearly 100 percent. Over the last five years, the facility has carried out 13 programmes and has reported no faulty deliveries so far.
Two new pilot projects underway
FIS is currently working on two important pilot projects at this facility and is planning to install automated robotic arms, thermo covering setups, climatic chambers and other new equipment along with a test centre for airbag deployment at the pilot plant soon. “We have a very stringent quality check and our pilot plant has sophisticated equipment. For example, a luxury car maker had demanded for hot-plate welding technology (used to ensure near-zero gap between two plates or layers) for the development of a glove box prototype for them. We have the machine which ensures just that,” told a plant official.
On design trends, Bogawat highlighted two factors – consumer and regulation requirements. “For example, a regulatory requirement such as end-of-life policy which exists in every developed country follows a mandate that the vehicle must be scrapped within a stipulated time. And when the vehicle is scrapped, a certain percentage of components must be recyclable. This means that we are constantly working on increasing material composition, especially those which are recyclable in nature, like wood. I believe that India too will also start following such mandates,” he said.
Faurecia’s larger mandate is, like all businesses driven by the consumer who wants better fuel economy, and a lighter and greener vehicle. That is driving innovation and new trends in design and engineering. “We are currently working on a non-CCB model. A CCB is a cross-car bin, a structure which supports the whole weight of the instrument panel. So we are looking at developing an interior panel which could be fitted without the support of a structure (cross car bin),” revealed Bogawat.
Besides the aesthetics (design of door panels, dash boards, engagement of wood and aluminium in the design), the technical centre is also designing and developing new solutions achieving a balance between lightweight and safe parts. It has already filed over 20 patents across vehicle interiors, exteriors and seating verticals.
“Another area where we are constantly working upon is to upgrade the quality of our output. Faurecia’s expectations from this Centre increases under the cost optimisation model. Hence, our global teams expect us to deliver quality work at par with the teams working in the developed countries,” concludes Fernandes.
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