Faurecia Puts the ‘Wow Factor’ in Its Process Technologies

Digital twins and autonomous in-plant logistics are some of the technologies Matt Myrand is using to improve manufacturing operations.

Autonomous wheel units from Norway’s Wheel.me, shown here on a simulated parts cart, are the next wave of flexible in-plant logistics at Faurecia. (Wheel.me)

Faurecia is on a roll. The France-based Tier 1 has been expanding into clean mobility (including hydrogen storage systems) and recently acquired lighting systems giant Hella. From this, a new umbrella organization called Forvia was created, with 150,000 employees in more than 40 countries. Faurecia and Hella operate as two independent companies, with different processes, but pursue synergies whenever possible.

Matt Myrand has been with Faurecia for 17 years. He and his team are looking for the tools—physical and digital—to improve the company’s manufacturing operations. (Steven Macaulay)

Matt Myrand, manufacturing innovation director, Faurecia, says of the affiliation with Hella, “You know it is a small industry when it turns out that they know the same companies and startups that I know.” At the 2022 Management Briefing Seminars, he told SAE Media that the newer, smaller companies that Faurecia engages with tend to be more innovative in their approaches to manufacturing. Established companies, by comparison, lack the long-term vision of the start-ups “and know they need to build up their technology over the next two to three years.” By comparison, established companies seek immediate returns on what they can develop right now.

“While the solutions they come up with are nice, where is the ‘wow’ factor?” Myrand asked. “I get a lot more ‘wows’ from start-ups.”

Wheel of the future

One of these innovative startups may have an instrumental impact on material handling operations. Norwegian tech company Wheel.Me  is making what Myrand describes as an “autonomous wheel.” Instead of a full-blown automated guided vehicle (AGV), Wheel.Me’s solution is based on individual units that can be attached to the bottom of a rack or a shelf, something that would otherwise be stationary. The units use a powered mecanum wheel, sensors and on-board intelligence. Each is capable of handling 100 kg (220 lb).

Myrand calls the Wheel.me units “the next wave of mobility” for production operations. The companies had been piloting the solution together for almost two years before entering into an agreement. After a successful first installation at Faurecia’s Simpsonville, Kentucky seating plant, several other manufacturing facilities in North America are ready to deploy the technology.

That’s not to say that AGVs – Faurecia has 1,300 of them – are past their sell-by date. One of the things the company is doing is mounting cobots (collaborative robots) from Universal Robots  on AGVs from Mobile Industrial Robots , thus expanding the machines’ operational capabilities ranging from warehouse picking to on-line assembly operations.

Digital Twins and quality

Myrand said Faurecia is making extensive use of digital twins – virtual models designed to accurately reflect a physical object – to optimize its plant efficiency. It starts by creating assembly lines in the virtual world. “We set up a 3D model, then put on our Oculus glasses and ‘walk’ through the line,” he explained. “This allows us to see things like if a machine needs to be moved.”

The company also is developing the means for digital twins to model what is occurring when production is proceeding, with the model providing some visibility to what is happening. “Our short-term goal with digital twins is making data available and visible to the production people. There is a lot of value in that. Long term, it is predictive analytics. For example, can we predict when there will be scrap or that a machine may go down?” he said.

Forviva has data scientists in France, Germany and India who work with researchers around the world. Their advanced work includes using AI for automated visual inspection. The objective is to have a camera look at a finished part and determine if there is a defect and, if so, what it is (e.g., scratch, dent, ding, tear, wrinkle). Then that determination would be used so there would be automatic fixing and rework. “This protects the customer – internal or OEM,” Myrand said.