Internet of things, automation, digitalisation, Industry 4.0 – whatever you call it, the rate of progress in automotive leather interiors, with all the available technology, intuition and market pressures, is at an all-time high. To highlight this, Lectra amassed an impressive cross-section of decision-makers from more than 20 countries for the third consecutive edition of its annual conference on cutting-edge leather-cutting.

Titled ‘Go digital: what Industry 4.0 means for automotive leather’, the event, held on 19–20 April at Lectra’s bucolic International Advanced Technology and Conference (IATC) centre in Bordeaux-Cestas, France, drew around 90 people from across the value chain to hear keynote presentations, partake in workshops and see impressive demonstrations of the company’s cutting machines, including Versalis.

Building on the success and momentum of previous editions, this event touched on a familiar range of topics but was nonetheless unique. Benny Daniel, director of consulting at Frost & Sullivan expressed urgency for companies to implement their 4.0 initiatives.

“The automotive industry is fiercely competitive and digitalisation of the manufacturing sector will only make the landscape more uncertain,” he said. “By acting now, automotive players can ensure they don’t lag behind once the pace picks up.”

Joined-up thinking

Following a brief history of the origins of Audi – from August Horch’s vision, the introduction of chrome-free Kodiak leather in 1992, and its ongoing commitment to sustainability – Lectra’s Henning Gathmann focused on new ways of approaching business based on today’s market in order to meet evolving consumer pressures on leather interiors.

“The connected economy is making it possible to satisfy consumer expectations in novel, technologically enabled ways,” he said. “This event provides us with a unique opportunity to share our market vision with suppliers.”

Other discussions revolving around new business opportunities emerging from the automotive leather value chain becoming more digitised included a talk by Sun Zhongwei, trim business unit director at Yanfeng, on the Made in China campaign and its impact on the automotive leather industry; and the smart factory of the future, presented by Norbert Audéoud, operational excellence and strategic transformation expert, and partner at management and organisation consultants Proconseil.

“Automotive players realise that 4.0 transformation is underway, but often don’t know how to go about it,” Audéoud said. “Reflecting together on 4.0 transformation will make the task less challenging for the makers of leather interiors, while presenting great opportunities for performance improvement and business development.”

The real deal

Automotive general manager at Gruppo Mastrotto Alberto Silvagni led a discussion on how the company increased operational agility and flexibility with digital leather cutting.

“Competing in a connected supply chain requires a more flexible approach,” he said. “Now that we’ve digitalised our cutting room, the next step for us is to increase automation elsewhere in our customer processes, to provide them with actionable information, in real time.” In addition, an engaging panel discussion explored what the future holds for leather in the automotive industry.

Driven by cloud-based technology, smart manufacturing and powerful analytics, the new connected economy and industrial revolution are redefining business models and manufacturing processes. Real-time communication between connected objects, production lines and services boosts manufacturing flexibility while optimising the use of available resources.

Lectra is in a privileged position as an organisation at the forefront of the Industry 4.0 movement. Its aim with these events is to help equip the automotive leather industry with the tools it needs to meet the changes and challenges head on based on vital technologies, collaboration and efficiency.