The fully-connected manufacturing facility hints at eliminating dealerships by taking orders directly from customers.
Renault wants the world to know that it plans to revolutionize the car manufacturing process, but the revolution won’t necessarily be visible to anyone walking through the automaker’s plant of the future. That is, unless you actually see someone wearing a mechanical exoskeleton to help them lift heavier things.
The core of Renault’s take on manufacturing lies with digitizing the process. In essence, the automaker is seeking to build customer-ordered cars on-the-fly through a broader use of connected systems. This will allow greater customization to blend with the mass production afforded by an assembly line. Or at least, that’s the theory put forth in the nifty video above that outlines the procedure.
To make this happen, Renault will seek to turn its manufacturing plants into “smart” plants, each with Wi-Fi and specific apps that will basically connect everything and everyone at the facility. That means workers – and especially supervisors – will have tablets to get real-time info on production and make adjustments as needed. Renault has already been working on this, and says tablets can save supervisors up to 90 minutes each day.
With this kind of connectedness, the automaker reckons each car that comes off the line can be unique and personalized to customers. When a buyer places an order, the customizable items are organized and delivered to the assembly line, presumably by the person wearing the cool exoskeleton according to the video. The whole process is traceable, so everyone (including the customer) is in the know on parts and vehicle assembly. Should there be a mechanical or other production-related failure, necessary teams at the digitally connected plant can respond immediately to correct the problem. Once the car is completed, the customer is notified that it’s ready for delivery.
It all sounds great in theory, but it also sounds like a system where buyers order directly from the factory instead of through traditional dealerships. Renault doesn’t have a presence in the United States, where there’s been considerable pushback against manufacturers like Tesla that want direct-to-consumer sales. Many people feel that, in an age of internet shopping, the old-school dealership approach is a very antiquated and annoying way to sell cars. Dealers, obviously, feel otherwise.
If Renault’s plan for a connected, efficient manufacturing and delivery process works out, the days of haggling at the local dealership could well be numbered.
RENAULT: THE MANUFACTURING PLANT OF THE FUTURE
- Setting its sights on the future, Renault is adapting its production system to address the new challenges facing the automotive industry
- People are at the heart of Renault’s plant of the future, from operators to customers
- The Industry 4.0 revolution is driving connected, agile and competitive manufacturing
The automotive industry is being reshaped by the mainstreaming of electric vehicles, the advent of autonomous, connected vehicles, personalisation and other trends. To keep pace with this revolution, the industry needs to adapt to ensure reliable, fully traceable production. Renault is digitising its production system to support operators, build connected, personalised vehicles, and make plants more customer-focused. The goal is twofold: to ensure the quality of its vehicles and to maintain the competitive advantage of its production system.
Renault’s plant of the future, focused on customers
Customers today are looking for connected vehicles that reflect who they are. Renault’s production system is adapting to these needs by rolling out vehicles that are 100 per cent personalised; each vehicle is unique.
The traceability of each part
Each part is traceable, making it possible to track each order every step of the way. As soon as a customer orders a new vehicle, the raw materials are prepared, the suppliers informed and the logistic flows put in place. By fully synchronising all stages of production, the plant is able to respect lead times, from suppliers to end customers.
Sites use QR codes and RFID tags for parts, along with a database, to manage the quality of each part throughout the process.
For example, the Valladolid plant (in north-west Spain) uses active RFID tags to geolocate vehicles. That enables real-time identification of vehicles ready to be delivered, allowing customers be notified when their vehicles are ready.
A controlled process
With the “right first time” approach, operators treat each vehicle built as if it were their own. They know that everything they do impacts the quality of the vehicle delivered and are also aware of customer requirements.
To help them, team leaders organise frontline events and set up demonstration areas in the shop. This quality-conscious approach builds awareness in operators, who play a direct role in customer satisfaction.
Finally, lean manufacturing emphasises the creation of added value for customers. Anything that slows production down needlessly is eliminated. Logistics flows are automated to ensure a smooth process and reassure operators.
Full kitting is widely deployed, doing away with lineside stock. Operators no longer need to move from point to point: all the parts corresponding to the assembly film are prepared ahead of time and follow the vehicle along the assembly line.
With 36 production sites and 12 logistics sites worldwide, Renault and Nissan manufacturing teams apply the Alliance Production Way (APW) production standards.
Introduced in 2014, this system shares the best practices of both makers, captures synergies and facilitates the deployment of innovations and sharing of investments to upgrade plants.
APW has enabled cross-manufacturing between the two partners. The Micra built at Renault’s Flins plant in France is one example.
People are the cornerstones of Renault’s plant of the future
People lead Industry 4.0.
New equipment means people are more agile, more responsive and trained in new technologies.
Renault has deployed health, safety and environment policies at all its plants and is attentive to employee well-being at work. At the Cléon factory in France, for example, some employees wear exoskeletons for easier handling of parts weighing up to 15 kilograms, enhancing their agility and minimising the risk of injury.
Debulking robots also make it easier to handle parts. They pick up, replace and empty parts into trays, for a more seamless process flow. While a long way from replacing people, technology is gradually helping to phase out the hardest tasks.
Autonomous equipment such as collaborative robots, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and driverless forklifts are bringing to life tomorrow’s perfectly ordered plants.
“Success is built on advancements in technology and tools and most of all on the people who develop and use them.”
Jose Vicente de los Mozos
Lastly, to support this high-tech revolution, managers are updating the way they work through the Trust Management process, which empowers employees and encourages them to demonstrate initiative. It also facilitates teamwork.
Managers create a trusted environment, making people feel free to “tell it like it is” constructively. Anyone can ask for help when they encounter a problem in their work, without having to worry about being criticised.
Management’s job is to be close to employees to help them develop their skills. Training has been developed for managers and team leadership standards have been introduced, including regular meetings. These standards make it easier to resolve issues as soon as they arise. This training has already been provided at most production sites, with the aim of reaching all managers, from team managers to executives, by the end of 2017.
As a result of this management practice, the Cléon plant in France has seen a sharp improvement in indicators related to absences, safety and employee engagement.
The plant of the future is connected
Digitising plants facilitates production by connecting people, products and processes from orders to delivery. It is intended to accelerate Renault plants’ progress and performance.
The digital transformation
It supports and connects management at all levels. From employees to plants managers, everyone benefits from new technology. Digital technology aims to provide tools based on how things are really done on the job. The tools make work easier. They are more connected and collaborative, easier to use and more mobile – in short, more efficient.
For example, all Renault plants will eventually be equipped with Wi-Fi and apps that already allow employees to access all the information they need - vacations, site closures, training and more – from their own smartphones.
Tablets have changed the way team – or UET – supervisors work. When it introduced the “connected UET supervisor” concept, the Valladolid plant gave each team leader a tablet for real-time access to production and quality data. This allows them to take action quickly; the photo feature lets them explain a production line problem with pictures and instant messaging facilitates conversations. They can respond immediately without waiting for interventions from the shop floor.
“By facilitating decision-making on the front line, digitisation makes real-time management possible”.
Jose Vicente de Los Mozos
UET supervisor at 13 plants will be given tablets by the end of the year, freeing their time. The tablet saves them up to 90 minutes a day, time they can spend on the floor with their teams.
Virtual training has been introduced at the Valladolid plant in Spain, the Cléon plant in France and the Curitiba plant in Brazil to help teach operators and boost versatility in teams. It shortens the time it takes to develop and update training courses and also improves their effectiveness.
Virtual training saves time and improves learning. Newly hired employees can be trained more easily and are operationally faster.
Other advantages include lower safety risks when new operators arrive and ease of memorising during long intervention cycles.
It remotely monitors equipment using dedicated software to display all data relating to machinery in real time. The job of maintenance technicians is being transformed. They can now anticipate equipment failures that can affect production, rather than respond afterwards. Technicians receive alerts on their tablets and can connect to other sites or technical experts to plan the operations to be performed and keep the other sites up to date. This prevents production stoppages and guarantees the competitiveness of the production system.
Predictive maintenance has already been deployed at the Cléon machining center in France, and will be extended to the Valladolid plant in Spain, the Sandouville plant in France and the Cacia plant in Portugal in the near future.
The goal of digitisation is to improve agility and responsiveness at strategic points in the process: tracking components for maintenance, managing consumption (raw materials, energy, etc.) and ensuring traceability of parts right to end users. It covers all areas of the plant.
Creating Industry 4.0
Sharing best practices among plants in real time creates an Industry 4.0 production system characterised by sharing and collective competencies. Renault’s plant of the future is collaborative and open to its ecosystem, from suppliers to partners.
The new tools promote closeness to customers and further improve quality control to move from mass production to individual personalised vehicles.
Each plant is free to test innovations, or “technology bricks.” Once the concept has been proven, the innovation is added to the catalogue and can be deployed across Renault’s plants. Renault also leans on designated pilot plants, notably Cléon in France, Valladolid in Spain and Curitiba in Brazil.
These plants test innovations on a wider scale for subsequent deployment at other sites, building a performance foundation gradually rolled out everywhere.
Renault manufacturing in figures
The manufacturing base comprises more than 66,000 employees, 36 production sites and 12 logistics sites.
“The cultural diversity of our sites is an asset, but the ability to apply the same fundamentals and deploy innovations over the world to meet customer requirements remains key to performance and is one of the objectives facing the plant of the future.”
Jose Vicente de Los Mozos
CAP 2020 collective agreement in France
Employee dialogue is pivotal to the plant of the future. In France, that resulted in the signature on January 13, 2017 of the Renault France CAP 2020 collective agreement on sustainable performance. CAP 2020 aims to build Renault’s future in France for the next three years, based on three priorities: customer satisfaction, sustainable operations and employee motivation.
Commitments regarding French plants, the benchmark for Renault as a whole, include:
- €500 million of capital expenditure between 2017 and 2019 to improve plant performance (flexible production lines, automation, collaborative robots) and working conditions (renovation, improved workstation ergonomics and more).
- Proactive commitments regarding employment and training to develop competencies, ultimately leading to 3,600 permanent contract hires and 6,000 fixed-term youth employment contracts.
- Improved quality of life at work through, among others, empowering, participatory management, more widespread dialogue on quality of work, a revamped work setting and the right to connection for everyone at production sites.