With the growing need to have better electronics integration within the mechanical framework of a vehicle, Continental Automotive Components (India) Private Limited has been manufacturing wheel speed sensors (WSS) for all major automotive OEMs in India at its plant in Manesar. Auto Tech Review met Rajesh Khosla, Location Head & Plant Manager, Continental Automotive Components (India) Private Limited, to discuss developments in WSS and also have a look at how instrument clusters are manufactured.
PRIMED FOR GROWTH
The company set up shop in Manesar in 2005 and currently this facility is spread across 7,800 sqm. While the WSS unit is for four-wheelers, the instrument clusters unit caters to both two- and four-wheeler requirements. Estimating demand for the next five years, Khosla said that the company has ample floor space available for both business units to expand. It envisages a 14 % CAGR growth and intends to double its sales in the next five years.
Continental expects growth to be boosted by government mandates like ABS, which will soon become mandatory. Due to this, the WSS business is expected to accelerate. Today Continental produces around 10 million sensors a year, but market forecasts expect this number to go up to 16 million sensors within the next three years. With BS VI norms coming into force by 2020, the market for sensors is expected to double.
Today Continental has four business units conducting manufacturing operations and two engaged in trading operations. Of the four, electronic cluster manufacturing caters to passenger vehicles and two-wheelers, while powertrain sensors and chassis sensors are exclusively for four-wheelers. On the chassis side, the company is involved in engine-speed sensors and wheel-speed sensors, and on the powertrain side it produces knock and temperature sensors.
Manesar today is one of the best cost locations globally for Continental. It has a mix of workers from different categories, which provides leverage in terms of labour costs. Currently, there is 9 % gender diversity at the Manesar plant, and recently, female workforce was also introduced on the shopfloor.
Continental’s shopfloor has been designed in a way that it caters to both electronic and mechanical production requirements. Sensors form the largest part (around 80 % of the total volume) of production at the Manesar plant, where there are around 500 employees, and the company expects to double its headcount in the next five years.
With respect to its product portfolio, Continental has opted for a localisation approach and is looking at more value analysis/value engineering (VA/VE) proposals with its suppliers. Off-the-shelf parts are not procured from global locations, as they might not work in the Indian market – the company tries to re-engineer its products according to domestic requirements. The parts on electronic clusters are not purely safety-related, but also pertain to styling and design elements. But the sensor business requires more safety regulations to work with.
The capacity utilisation at the company’s plant for the electronic cluster division is about 60 % and for the sensor business, it is close to 90 %. Continental has around 17 projects currently operational and it plans to work on 25 projects by the end of this year. All these are projects in the pipeline, which would be executed in due course.
On the shopfloor, Continental follows a drive on deviation management and a drive on ‘Jishuken,’ which represents the target area to work upon and to reduce waste generation during the production process. It could involve improving non-performance costs, improving operational equipment availability, or shrinking the line size, to optimise production space.
Significant attention is paid to non-production material costs within the plant and the company tries to minimise costs associated with regular operations, in order to make fixed costs more competitive. The Manesar plant has a solar power generation mechanism, which was started in January this year. Khosla said that being committed to the environment, Continental is moving towards a green factory through similar initiatives.
Multiple moulding operations are carried out in the plant and all the operational moulding machines come with variable frequency drives, in order to save energy. This means that when the machine is in ideal state of operation, it saves on power consumption. This technology also extends to compressor units.
Wheel speed sensors are linked to the vehicles ABS, so it’s traded as a commodity product. Each car requires a set of four wheel speed sensors and Continental currently supplies wheel speed sensor (WSS) units to almost all major auto OEMs in India. Initially, the company used manual cutting methods for the harness cables and the cycle time was around five seconds per piece. With the installation of an automatic machine, the speed increased to 10 pieces in five seconds. This was required due to increasing demand for sensors and the need to improve safety in lower-end cars as well.
Continental develops these sensors according to ISO 26262 functional safety management requirements. The control systems for ABS, TCS and ESC determine the wheel speed based on signals sent by the wheel speed sensors. This information is used to determine when the wheels are spinning, and taking appropriate control action to prevent the wheels from locking up under hard braking, maintaining the vehicle’s stability and steering responses. The wheel speed is measured using the anisotropic magneto-resistance (AMR) effect. This method, along with the integrated information processing feature, enables the latest generation sensors to handle multiple functions.
INSTRUMENT CLUSTER UNIT
Khosla said that the company is currently witnessing an upward trend in the electronic cluster business. Since it has more to do with the two-wheeler segment, it’s a highly price- and cost-sensitive market. He added that customers today demand high quality at very competitive prices. Here lies the challenge in terms of manufacturability and there are a lot of initiatives that the company drives at the plant to keep operational costs low and competitive.
There are 13 lines currently operational for the cluster division. These lines follow deviation management, which keeps check on non-value adding losses on a minute basis. The target is to minimise non-conformance costs or process rejection caused due to human error. The current rejection rate is 0.13 % on the projection lines, and the company plans to better this number in due course.
The production process in these lines starts from the PCB assembly station, where the stepper motor is integrated with the PCB. A stepper motor is responsible for the movement of the analogue needle of a speedometer, fuel gauge or a tachometer. The next step is to solder the stepper motor pins, to complete the connection between the motor and the PCB pad. This unit is then integrated with the light guide to complete the process.
The part is then moved to the bracket twisting station, where the display LCDs are assembled by inserting a diffuser within the structure. A zebra connector connects the PCB with the LCD unit. The dial is then bolted on to the sub-assembly and moved to the pointer stacking station and the calibration station. Here the pointer is pressed with the sub-assembly to ensure flawless pointer operations.
The front and back moulded covers are integrated to complete the assembly process. The cluster unit is then transferred to the camera inspection unit, where all tell-tale lights are inspected for the right amount of light emission and brightness. The operator then tests the cluster for a final compliance check and certifies the unit. The final product is then bar coded and sent for packaging. The packaging operator further verifies all the parameters for the final product and sends the packaged units to the warehouse.
THE WAY FORWARD
The recent trend towards wider adoption of EFI in motorcycles is a positive move, and with BS VI norms coming soon, carburettors will eventually be phased out. Witnessing this trend, the company is in the process of setting up a line for digital linear actuators as a part of its electronics manufacturing services. Safety is an automotive megatrend and Continental’s chassis and safety division is also working towards that in a big way.
TEXT: Anwesh Koley