On the brink of a revolution
After a slow-down in car sales in 2015, China enjoyed a rebound in 2016. By 2020, China—today the number one global manufacturer of automobiles—will account for nearly a third of light vehicles produced in the world, while those from other emerging countries will represent a fifth. Benefitting from strong domestic demand, the American industry has restructured and gained in performance, while Europe continues to face overcapacity in production. On the eve of a revolution in self-driving cars, the automobile industry continues its quest for operational excellence, as well as adapting to consumer expectations in terms of style, price, connectivity, ecology and security. Interiors are still among top criteria when consumers choose a vehicle. Automakers are multiplying models with a focus on innovation, personalization and passenger experience. Synonymous with comfort and prestige, leather is increasingly used in car interiors. Demand for leather interiors is witnessing strong growth in all regions: +31% in Europe, +29% in North America and +24% in China between 2013 and 2017.
The airbag sector is benefitting the world over from legislation and consumer expectations that both favor security. Depending on the country, new car models include from two to 14 airbags. Not only are they increasing in number, but also in shape and size. Manufacturers need to put in place production that is beyond reproach: zero defects are essential. A 13% growth in the number of airbags produced is expected over the next two years, representing +25 million airbags a year.
The automobile industry is without doubt one of the most advanced industries in terms of factories of the future—and it will remain thus. In order to confront specific challenges in an increasingly complex context, automakers and automotive equipment suppliers—who are pioneers in the automation of processes—are accelerating the use of 4.0 technologies.
Now that processes have been individually digitalized, today these processes need to communicate with each other. As a result, 4.0 technologies facilitate communication between elements in their supply chains: horizontally between products, machines and production sites, and vertically from the executive board to the showroom. Influenced by the Millennials, the way cars are used is undergoing a full transformation. Why own a vehicle when you can share one? Used more often, cars must be increasingly resistant to wear and tear. Millennials also crave heightened personalization and innovative designs rolled out onto the market more frequently. In order to offer Millennials the digital experience they expect, and serving as a major differentiating factor, more technology is integrated into interiors’ designs. While tactile and intelligent materials lighten the weight of a vehicle. In China, a true car culture has arisen. Now the number one consumer of cars, this country has enormous potential for growth. In particular, the premium segment, in China is set to overtake the United States by 2020. This will have an impact all along the industry’s production chain. Leather is much in demand. It coexists with substitute materials, like vinyl, which are more uniform and easier to use. Local automakers and automotive equipment suppliers will, along with the major global groups present in China, accrue market share and move towards a high-end offer.
Consumers expect a wider, and personalized, choice of leather interiors. The supply chain is growing in complexity because of the increasing number of variations and rapid changes in products. Digitalizing the cutting room and streamlining processes provide tanners with greater flexibility and agility. More responsive, they can efficiently respond to evolving demands from consumers.
Faurecia Automotive Seating
With Industry 4.0 in mind, Faurecia is betting on advanced manufacturing for its operations. In December 2016, its Automotive Seating group renewed a global agreement that makes Lectra the strategic supplier of high-ply fabric cutting solutions to Faurecia. For the manufacturer, one of the key benefits of this long-term partnership is standardizing the cutting equipment to the highest performance system available on the market.
A technological revolution
For the first time on the airbag market, a comprehensive, connected solution, with a laser cutter, a dedicated software suite and high added-value services is offered to manufacturers of automotive safety systems. Leveraging Lectra’s power to innovate and 30 years of experience in laser cutting for airbags, FocusQuantum was developed in tight collaboration with leaders in the industry. With this solution providing zero defects in production, productivity is twice as high as the previous generation of cutters. Each machine can cut up to 8 million airbags a year.
An immediate commercial success
One year after its launch, a large number of airbags’ manufacturers have already adopted FocusQuantum Flat and OPW solutions, with certain customers ordering another new cutter as soon as the first one is installed. Global Safety Textiles (GST, Germany), HMT (China), Dual and Kolon Industries (South Korea), Key Safety Systems (KSS, United States) and Sumisho Airbag Systems (Japan) have acquired one, or several, FocusQuantum in 2016. Lectra, who already holds two thirds of the market for airbag cutters, continues to carve a leading position.