Lighting up Europe’s Automotive Industry
Writer: Tom Wadlow
Project Manager: Thomas Arnold
Automotive lighting is big business. A crucial part of the ever-complex vehicle manufacturer supply chain, the global market for these products is expected to hit $33.7 billion by 2020, growing at a rate of almost seven percent a year.
With the likes of LED and Xenon offering alternatives to traditional halogen bulbs, the sector is undergoing a transition which is underpinned by vibrant research and development activity. Factor in a growing population and increase in auto production, and the future certainly looks bright.
In Europe, vehicle headlamp and rear lamp producer HELLA AUTOTECHNIK NOVA s.r.o is more than keeping up with the wider industry. It is part of the wider HELLA organisation, a German company which is growing markedly stronger than the continent’s automotive market.
In August, HELLA announced sales increases of 9.3 percent for the fiscal year ending May 31 2018 – this equates to €7.1 billion, up from €6.6 billion from the previous period.
In the Czech Republic, HELLA AUTOTECHNIK continues to play its part in this story of rapid growth.
Petr Novotný has been the Company’s Managing Director around two and a half years. An industry veteran, he explains why he decided to make the move back in 2016.
“I have spent all my professional life in the automotive industry, mainly Tier 1,” he says. “My father was part of my inspiration and decisions – he was working in automotive as well, in R&D, including OEMs and motorsport.
“I have been a member of HELLA since April 2016. Lighting is a very dynamic, complex and challenging segment. It fits to my personality.”
A mainstay since 1992
Now, HELLA AUTOTECHNIK is one of the biggest employers in the Czech automotive industry.
Having been established in 1992, operations at its plant in Mohelnice, based in the Olomouc region in the east of the country, began in 1994, with Škoda being the recipient of the first goods off the production line.
A product development centre opened shortly after, with a new testing centre coming online in 2004 and a design office opening in nearby Ostrava in 2011. The Company’s physical presence also extends to Loštice, where its IT department is based.
This activity since the turn of the millennium has coincided with a ramping up of production and scale at Mohelnice, reflected by growing employee numbers. In 2007, the firm had 1,000 employees on its books, and since 2014 staff numbers have more than doubled to the 3,550-plus working at the three sites today.
During its time HELLA AUTOTECHNIK has produced 5.2 million headlamps and 1.9 million rear combination lamps, with more than 460 employees working on product development alone.
“We have the second largest design centre in the global HELLA network,” adds Novotný. “This incorporates a test laboratory and acts as a shared services centre for IT, central functions, systems and corporate engineering solutions.
“We specialise in advanced lighting products, which is reflected by our customer portfolio. R&D is therefore a key element, and we work with, for example, many leading LED suppliers.”
As Novotný eludes to, HELLA AUTOTECHNIK supplies a broad range of automakers which includes also the big German premium brands.
Setting HELLA apart
There are numerous factors which Novotný proudly states as reasons why HELLA stands apart from others operating in a competitive automotive supplier industry.
“Our reach, rich and successful history, formidable team and advanced in product development, and recent growth of our global footprint are all differentiators,” he says. “Our market position is a mirror of this background and company strategy.”
Continuous improvement, Novotný adds, will be vital if the Company is to retain its position as a national and regional market leader.
“We are always looking for the upcoming trends,” he continues, “and being close to our customer will ensure we have the ability to serve the right solutions.
“We have to monitor closely what is impacting on the products and on the technology, we must be ready for it. The needed skills and knowhow have to follow the future needs. So, advanced planning is important, as will be the growth of the current team to bring the skills in from outside, and also from other industry segments.”
Such expertise may also come from other organisations, key partners in HELLA’s operations.
Novotný has already pointed to important collaboration with numerous suppliers in the area of LED lighting, and Czech-based Krofian is one such company.
The partnership dates back to 2012 and has involved the completion of several projects and contracts, including work on manual production lines, semi-automated stations such as assembly and test tools and sets, as well as full-range production lines with multiple technology nodes.
In the LED space, Krofian has installed bespoke production lines which incorporate leading edge technology, for example a system of automatic application of thermal grease. This procedure is used to ensure a stable transfer of heat generated during lighting by the LED technology. Krofian’s equipment implemented in production lines ensure that thermal grease is applied evenly along a controlled route of application and camera control to assure that quality requirements are met.
By partnering with fellow pioneers, HELLA will remain at the forefront of innovation and ensure its own operations serve as a flag bearer for the industry at large.
Novotný goes on to explain exactly which trends he believes have been the most influential in recent times, and ones which HELLA is subsequently keeping a close eye on. LED lighting, once again, comes to the fore.
“Extension of LED technology for sure will impact across all of our various product segments,” he adds. “Now we are also faced with new challenges and opportunities, like safety, autonomous driving, electric vehicles and car body lighting, to name a few.”
These trends look set to continue transforming the automotive market for years to come, but what are Novotný’s immediate priorities for the future?
He concludes: “We will continue to work on our 2020 strategy. The level of the fulfilment will be the best indicator or scale to measure our performance. Generally, I want us to carry on being known as lean, fast and ahead of our competitors.”