Innovation leads to a home run


More than 100 new employees are now manning the production line in Magna’s Engineered Glass Division. Courtesy Magna International 

For seven years the lights remained off at one of Magna International’s Holland facilities due to declining sales and stagnant innovation, but in 2014, a new product helped the company reopen the facility with more than 100 new employees manning the production lines.

Magna’s Engineered Glass Division, which is part of the company’s Closures Group, experienced 10 years of declining sales requiring it to shutter one of its two Holland production facilities in 2007, according to Bruce Warren, general manager at Magna.

“Our product line really was tired at the time,” Warren explained.

Recognizing something needed to change, the Engineered Glass Division shifted its strategy to focus on innovation.

“It included bringing in some new talent, but it also meant repurposing some of the talent we had here already to develop new ideas,” Warren said. “We spent a lot of time and money really coming up with new ideas and experimenting with new ideas — they don’t all make it.”

But one idea, the PureView seamless window found on the 2015 Ford F-150, not only made it but also has been recognized as one of the best innovations of the year, receiving an Automotive News2015 PACE Award.

The PACE Award — Premier Automotive-Suppliers Contribution to Excellence — is given annually and recognizes auto suppliers’ most innovative products, manufacturing processes and information technology.

“The PureView seamless slider was one of the home runs we’d been looking for,” Warren said.

“What we do is we spec out the glass and then we add all the content to it to turn it into a moving window,” Warren said. “We make the rails and then we attach them to the glass; we attach clips; we put together a motor assembly because it’s a powered system so it moves back and forth.”

The PureView sliding window uses only two pieces of glass: the exterior surround and the sliding portion, which reduces build componentry and complexity.

It also eliminates the vertical seams that mark the edges of conventional pickup truck sliding rear windows, creating a smooth opening when viewed from outside. The two-piece design also enables uninterrupted defrost capability for the larger surrounding glass.

Standard sliding rear windows typically contain three pieces of glass — left and right panes that don’t move, plus the sliding portion in the middle — all held together by a support structure that requires numerous components.

The PureView window includes several patented technologies.

And it provides several benefits for the F-150.

“We reduced the weight, improved the defrosting efficiency, improved the opening and closing time and improved the water management,” Warren said.

At the time Magna began embarking on its innovation strategy, the Engineered Glass Division did not supply rear windows to Ford, although Magna did supply the carmaker with other parts.

As luck would have it, Ford held a design competition specifically for its new F-150, looking for an innovative back-window design for the pickup.

“It was perfect timing because we’d been working on these innovations,” Warren said. “We weren’t starting from scratch. All this work on innovation we’d done in the prior years, we were able to show it off, and that is what won us the business. Ford was delighted.”

Ford’s F-150 is the bestselling vehicle in North America, making the win huge for Magna’s Engineered Glass business.

“The PureView sliding window has allowed us to reopen the factory and hire 130 new positions for this division alone,” Warren said. “To take a building that was shuttered and repurpose it for new production is exciting,”

He noted the division has grown from 300 to 650 employees at its Holland location since 2009, and is currently looking to hire at least 50 additional employees.

Warren said today, Magna’s Engineered Glass Division continues to focus on innovation.

“We set very specific targets every year of how many innovations we plan to take to customers,” he said. “We’ve exceeded our plans for delivering new innovations in each of the last five years, and we have a couple of innovations we are working on right now.

“Today, just a few short years after focusing on innovation, we are the market leader in our top three product lines,” he noted. “We are the market leader in sliding windows, three-quarter windows and in lift glass, which flips up on the back of vehicles like the Wrangler or Escalade.”

In addition to its products, Magna has made significant changes in its processes and efficiency, which also help the company win and keep business.

“The speed of change is much faster than it was prior to 2008 and 2009,” Warren explained. “Development times have been reduced, and they expect us to move very quickly with new ideas and get them implemented.”

He noted today there are fewer auto suppliers than there were prior to 2009, but the companies that have prevailed are formidable opponents.

“We went to a flexible manufacturing concept so we can use equipment to make multiple products with very quick changeover times. That gives us flexibility,” he said.

On the manufacturing floor, everything is on wheels so stations can quickly be reconfigured to produce different parts as needed.

“As the market rises, we don’t have to worry about one single customer increasing their sales because we can simply add an additional cell and use it for additional customers with those quick changeovers.”

Warren believes the Magna Engineered Glass Division is well positioned to compete in the coming years, too.

Magna’s Michigan presence includes 27 manufacturing plants, 10,095 employees and 11 engineering, product development and sales offices.

The company’s global presence includes 313 manufacturing operations and 84 product development, engineering and sales centers in 28 countries, and approximately 131,000 employees.

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