Adoption of Industry 4.0 manufacturing techniques could culminate in more jobs being generated says Chinese supplier, Yanfeng Automotive Interiors (YFAI), although it nonetheless concedes staff will need more training to cope with new methods.

Increasing use of factory automation has caused some to fret this will lead to a haemorrhaging of staff, but some component producers such as Yanfeng believe customer preference for personalisation may trigger further employment opportunities.

“When you talk to Nike today, you have your personalised shoe,” YFAI CEO, Johannes Roters told just-auto on the sidelines of last week’s (8 June) opening of its new interiors plant in Planá nad Lužnicí in the south of the Czech Republic.

“This creates new jobs – that is why Industry 4.0 is changing the shop floor. We need a much better educated shop floor, so the challenge is how do we include our people on the shop floor? We need to come together with the unions.

“I believe in ten to 15 years, production will not go for labour costs any more. Industry 4.0 [is] driving efficiency much better than low labour costs.”

Yanfeng is adding considerably to the labour pool with its recent moves into Central and Eastern Europe, building on the opening of the Planá nad Lužnicí plant, as well as  its Automotive Business Centre in Bratislava a few weeks ago and the inauguration of its Technical Centre in Trencín, Slovakia.

In addition to these locations, the supplier also has a plant in Žatec manufacturing door panels, floor consoles and other interior components in the Czech Republic as well as production sites in Papa, Hungary and Námestovo, Slovakia.

“In the Czech Republic we are driving our footprint mainly with our customer decisions,” added Roters. “We chose this hub because we are serving our customers here – this hub was needed. If we are producing big parts like instrument panels – you can’t ship these parts for thousands of miles [from China for example].”

Prague is strongly encouraging inward manufacturing from overseas and the presence in Planá nad Lužnicí of several Czech government officials such as the Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade as well as his counterpart at the Labour and Social Affairs department, is testament to the country’s determination to attract high-tech foreign investment.

“We talked about incentives and we got confirmation [from the Czech government] we will get EUR7.2m (US$8.1m), so the question is what will we do with this money?” YFAI VP & general manager, Jochen Heier told just-auto at the Planá nad Lužnicí factory.

“We explained we will do Industry 4.0 and invest in this plant to make a benchmark. With unions it is important to explain. That is a learning curve at the moment; they understand, it is not losing workforce it is changing workforce to be competitive, for example with autonomous driving.

“Small batches [for customisation for example] means we have to be more efficient, that you can only do with 4.0.”

Extending his theme from the Czech Republic, the Yanfeng CEO remains confident the Chinese supplier will reach its goal of becoming a US$10bn company as vehicle demand recovers from the global economic downturn a few years ago.

“In the last years we [the market] recovered nicely and we believe in 2017 this European market could hit 20m cars again – we could hit 21m in the next years,” added Roters. “Specifically here in Central and Eastern Europe, we are seeing strong growth.

“We are a global player – we have a strong order book [to] lead us to US$10bn in the near future. Mergers and acquisition will continue and we will see consolidation of the entire industry in the future as well as changes on the OEM side – this industry will go through massive changes.

“On the interior side it is definitely ongoing. We have a nice set up – we have the focus on technology and innovation and a strong order book. We also work effectively on partnerships with other companies to create the total interior approach.”

The importance of the Planá nad Lužnicí plant opening was also gauged by the attendance at the event of Chinese Ambassador to the Czech Republic, MA Keqing.