Faurecia is about to unveil a new manufacturing initiative at its Columbus South plant, one that could be the blueprint for the future of digital manufacturing around the world.

Called the 4.0 manufacturing initiative, Faurecia’s new $64 million manufacturing facility is scheduled for opening ceremonies Oct. 4, with start of full production ready in January 2017.

Christopher Weigandt, Faurecia’s vice president of strategy and market intelligence, told Automotive News out of the 77 sites Faurecia operates around the globe, Columbus South will be the technology leader.

The 400,000-square-foot plant will produce a new, high-tech emission control product for Cummins in a digital environment — a facility that will use robotics, automated robotic vehicles and visual communication techniques designed to foster collaboration and communication from the upper echelons of management to the manufacturing floor.

Story continues below gallery

And all that collaboration and communication will generate data, so much of it monitoring every aspect of production that the company will have a mathematician on staff just to effectively statistically analyze all the information, said Dave DeGraaf, North American Operations division president for Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies.

And that’s not the only unusual thing about the new plant, which DeGraaf said will be the flagship for the company and the new model for Faurecia’s manufacturing future.

Not the plant of yesteryear

Unlike the image of Indiana’s dark and dingy manufacturing plants of yesteryear, Faurecia has embedded so much technology into the imprint of the building and its processes that there will no longer be paper used inside, DeGraaf said.

Instead, the estimated 450 workers at the manufacturing plant will use digital screens, laptops, smartphones and face-to-face communication to speed up the collaboration process and not get bogged down in processes of yesterday. And it’s all done by providing real-time information about what is happening throughout the plant, and analyzing that data to determine what could go wrong, rather than waiting for something to go wrong and then fix it.

While preventative maintenance is smart and preferred, predicting what will need to be maintained and how is more efficient, DeGraaf said.

“There’s a greater advantage to being proactive rather than reactive,” he said. “It drives inefficiency out of the process.”

Those inefficiencies can be what sets Faurecia apart from competitors and will allow the company to provide a quality product on time.

One of the innovations designed to improve worker performance and efficiency will be the use of cobots, or collaborative robots, DeGraaf said. Employees at Columbus South will be learning how to work alongside a robot designed to help humans do their work —  like having an extra set of hands, he said.

Many of the tasks done by the cobots will be routine and repetitive tasks that will help employees avoid ailments such as carpel tunnel syndrome, that can occur when nerves are damaged by repetitive motion.

The new plant also will utilize AIVs, commonly known as autonomous intelligent vehicles. Faurecia’s plant will be the showcase for the Swisslog Warehouse and Distribution Solutions product, which is capable of being programmed to go to a specific location in the plant, perform a function such as pick up a part, and then deliver it to a programmed location.

Interestingly enough, the AIVs are also programmed to detect an obstacle in their way, determine a path around it, and communicate that information to other AIVs in the plant, DeGraaf said. When the obstacle is removed, that information is also communicated among the AIVs and updated.

When asked if that looked like the robots that scoot through the “Star Wars” movies, DeGraaf laughed at the comparison, but said from a safety aspect, the AIVs are the best automation to avoid collisions and mishaps on the floor.

And the Swisslog company points out that the AIVs can retrieve parts and deliver them to the manufacturing floor 24/7, which reduces the workload on the humans.

The plant has also been designed to remove obstacles in product design and development. No one has a set home base where they are assigned to sit and work, DeGraaf said. Instead, with a paperless, digital workplace, workers are free to move about collaboratively and more efficiently — spending less time on the phone and on email.

The new plant will have adaptable desks that can be moved so employees may work sitting or standing.

Looking like a ‘start-up’

Engineers at the plant now have windows that look out onto the floor where their designs are being made, and are not tucked away in a separate research and design facility away from the manufacturing, he said. Their space looks similar to what a start-up engineering firm might look like, he said.

Having the designers next to the makers shortens the development cycle and reduces costs when developing a product, DeGraaf said.

The design also allows Faurecia to more easily on-board new employees in this manufacturing facility, as the 18-month training process can be completed in one facility. As part of their training process, all employees work in a manufacturing setting, including top management.

The company will have about 1,700 employees in Columbus when the new plant opens with some workers transferring to the new plant, and space reorganization in the Gladstone Avenue plant on the city’s east side.

Faurecia supplies emissions-control systems and parts for Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler, Cummins and Deere & Co.

DeGraaf, who said as a leader he likes to get his hands dirty, does regular walk-throughs around the new facility, and is preparing for the first new employees who will go through the training process before their assignment into the new plant.

He admits to a little nervousness, but good nervousness, at the opening of the new state-of-the art, or perhaps state-of-the-technology facility.

“Anytime you launch a new program or a new product, when you have all the different disciplines in a new location — a new process — new people, that does tend to keep me awake sometimes,” he said.

“This manufacturing space, it will be state of the art for a period of time,” he said. “I’ll be very interested to see how the plants of the future come online with new technology.”

About the plant

What: Columbus South, Faurecia’s newest U.S. emissions control systems manufacturing plant

Where: 36 acres east of the company’s Research and Development Center off County Road 450S, about a mile east of Interstate 65.

Cost to build: $64 million

Size: 400,000 square feet

Employment: Predicted employment for Faurecia in its two manufacturing facilities is 1,766 jobs, which will move the company to the area’s second-largest manufacturing employer. Columbus South will have about 450 employees, with some of those people transferring from the Gladstone Avenue facility in Columbus.

Product: The new plant will produce a product described as the next generation of emission-control systems that will result in smaller and more compact single modules to greatly improve fuel mileage on Cummins diesel engines.

About Faurecia North America

Based in: Auburn Hills, Michigan, where Faurecia opened its new North America Headquarters and Seating Technical Center in July 2014.

Employees: More than 20,000 at 47 locations in the United States, Canada and Mexico, including about 1,600 in Columbus. As of Dec. 31, 2014, Faurecia employed 100,000 people in 34 countries at 330 sites and 30 research and development facilities.

Business groups: Automotive Seating, Emissions Control Technologies, Interior Systems and Automotive Exteriors.

Customers include: FCA, Ford, General Motors, BMW, Hyundai, Nissan and Volkswagen. Faurecia is also active in the commercial vehicle market through a partnership with Cummins Emissions Solutions.

Founded: Faurecia was formed in 1997 following a merger between Bertrand Faure — a specialist in spring-based seat cushions for the automotive industry — and ECIA — a Peugeot subsidiary and manufacturer of seats, front ends and vehicle interiors with a reputation as one of Europe’s leading names in exhaust systems.

Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.