With the manufacturing industry undergoing the fourth industrial revolution (industry 4.0), businesses worldwide are seeking how new technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) can be leveraged to accelerate operations.
In the case of SAS Automotive Systems, Freddy Torres, Head of Corporate Operational Excellence, affirms how important digitisation has become as his company seeks to embrace new technology, particularly in its assembly process. “We’re always looking at how we can improve our assembly process and seek a solution which will enable us to increase our operational performance and find a way to create real more value in our operations,” says Torres. SAS employs approximately 4,300 people worldwide and produces around 5.2mn cockpits annually. Operating as a joint venture between two market leaders, Continental and Faurecia, SAS conducts operations from 21 locations worldwide. Sound technical knowledge and strict quality standards form the basis of the firm’s efficient processes and reliable services.
As part of its digitisation journey, SAS is making its first steps in taking advantage of the actual Data Lake in order to create more value. “We deal with several safeties critical components so it’s important to continue increasing the robustness and capabilities of our tightening process,” explains Torres. “Many companies collect this kind of information mainly for traceability and process control. As you understand more about the process by analysing its behaviour, more effective improvement actions can be taken to accelerate its capability and product quality which reduces operational risk.” To amplify this, SAS has successfully trialled three examples in its digitisation journey so far featuring its paperless approach, 3D printer for tooling and web- applications such as “Truck Arrival” reducing waste in its operations. “We are proud of having internally developed an electronic-paper solution that adapt to our needs,” he says. “This will enable us to keep reducing our carbon footprint as we deploy the technology in our plants.”
It’s fair to say that Torres experienced a different start to his career from competitors in the field. Having begun his journey in Japan, where he lived for 10 years, Torres’ first role was as a research and development engineer in Okegawa, Japan, before moving onto work as a quality engineer prior to leaving for Germany in 2011. Torres reflects on his unique beginning and believes the life experience acted as a springboard for where he is today. “That’s where I learnt my craft,” affirms Torres. “I was the only foreigner working at my former company in one of two plants located in Yamagata Prefecture, Japan; I really felt the senior people welcomed me and the experience helped me massively, particularly in learning the meaning of Genba.” Moreover, Torres stresses the influence “kaizen” (the Japanese word for continuously improving all business functions across all areas of the production line) is having on firms in Japan. “There is a big focus on the importance of kaizen across all companies in Japan,” says Torres. “I realised early on during my time in the country that some routines in daily life known in the western world as kaizen tools are an intrinsic part of the Japanese culture.”
Having made the switch to his current position at SAS in 2017, Torres acts as a key link between several Corporate Functions and the plants. “We want to increase the level of alignment and transparency in the organisation.” Serving a range of high-profile automotive customers such as FCA, Daimler, Volkswagen Group and Tesla, SAS delivers tailored customer service for each of its clients. Torres reflects on the role partnerships play on his firm’s operations, particularly its strategic collaboration with SK Automation. “SK Automation is becoming a key business partner that plays an important role in the establishment of our new production facilities in Europe and Asia. It has demonstrated the speed and effectiveness we need in this kind of business,” explains Torres. “We must have a dedicated approach to each customer in order to fulfil their requirements. Take Tesla for instance, we’re learning how to build with it because it has a completely different approach to the traditional way of doing things and it’s important we adapt our services to suit each client’s different needs.” With a firm customer-centric approach in mind, Torres stresses the importance of ensuring customers obtain the best value. “As we are in the JIS-JIT business, our processes must be 100% robust so innovation remains a permanent challenge for us,” he says. “We need to search for opportunities that will enable us to go the extra mile in comparison to our competitors and ensure we always deliver the best value for our customers. Innovation doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to introduce new technologies. It can be how we operate as a business to work out ways to reduce costs and provide customers with a competitive cost. We want to show that we’re 100% available for our customers at all times.”
With the future in mind, Torres affirms the aim is to ensure SAS can continue to go from strength to strength as it looks to expand over the upcoming years. “Growth is the most important thing. Our expectation is to ensure we grow in North America and China because we believe that those countries remain our biggest chances of increasing our manufacturing footprint,” summarises Torres. “There’s also opportunities here in Europe so we must stay alert to ensure SAS can continue to grow.”