The demand for more advanced driver assistance systems, which could lead to autonomous vehicles, has been explosive in recent years. For every vehicle with ADAS that means automakers need a bunch of small cameras to make those systems work, and ultimately good news for mega-supplier Magna.
To fill the orders for those digital cameras, Magna has opened a new $50 million manufacturing center near Flint, Michigan, for a technology that didn’t exist when the company’s founder first started bending metal for automobiles 60 years ago.
The new electronics manufacturing facility today in Grand Blanc Township, Michigan, consolidates three nearby locations into a single state-of-the-art facility. Magna started making the small cameras shortly after the turn of the century when the they were still considered an exotic technology used exclusively in luxury vehicles.
By opening the 230,000-square-footfacility with an investment of nearly $50 million, Magna solidifies its leadership in vision-based driver assistance systems. Jeff Gary, general manager of Magna Electronics, said the new plant will employ 600.
“But we expect that number to grow,” he said as the demand for the grows as driver assistance features become more sophisticated and safety regulations require more and better technology.
The new plant allows Magna to accelerate large-scale deployment of future technologies such advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles, micro LED lighting and advanced robotics that can collaborate with Magna employees.
The division started manufacturing automotive-grade cameras in 2005 and has steadily increased its annual output as driver assistance systems have grown through regulatory measures and consumer demand.
The original production runs amounted 350,000 pieces but last year the company shipped more than 12 million, making it the industry’s largest producer of tiny cameras.
At present Magna Electronics Holly has made more than 46 million ADAS components, a number that will continue to grow well into the future.
Rob Devota, process technology manager, noted the growth of Magna’s camera business has required innovation from the beginning.
“This isn’t just bending and banging,” he said, noting that in many cases Magna had to develop new processes of its to meet the demands of the business. As a result, the plant’s technical staff has secured more than 20 patents over the years and the culture encourages innovation.
“Every camera that Magna builds anywhere in the world gets built here,” he added, underscoring the Magna electronics pioneering role in the development of automotive cameras and their day-to-day production.
Devota added Magna is now encouraging suppliers to move into the smaller buildings it is leaving behind as it consolidates into the new building.
The components made in Grand Blanc are shipped to more than 330 different locations in North and South America, Europe and Asia and show up on vehicles built by virtually every automaker around the world.
Magna now combines cameras with other sensors such as radar and LiDAR to develop the advanced driver assistance systems that make up the building blocks of autonomy. Magna’s systems facilitate the use of adaptive cruise control to maintain a safe following distance.
“We provide features to improve the daily commute and add a layer of safety,” said Magna CTO Swamy Kotagiri.
“With the excitement surrounding autonomous vehicles and their potential to eliminate car crashes, it can be easy to forget the path to full autonomy lies in the safety and driver assistance systems we have today.”
In addition to manufacturing ADAS components, the new facility is home Magna’s advanced robotics R&D testing lab. With continued advancements in AI the company is bringing more smart factory concepts into its operations, and this new lab allows the testing and implementation of robotics that are adaptable, flexible and work in collaboration with people.
The plant is also the home of Magna Rohinni Automotive, a joint venture formed in 2018 to bring ultra-thin, flexible micro-LED lighting solutions to market. Magna and Rohinni announced that the joint venture, after less than one year, has a dedicated production line installed in the new plant and stands ready to support production.