Hella lights path to growth

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"Engineering is still where my heart beats,” Hella executive Martin Fischer told AEI.

Hella is expanding operations in the U.S., Brazil, and Mexico, the head of the company’s electronics division in the America’s said at a wide-ranging press briefing April 25 in conjunction with the SAE 2012 World Congress. In addition to opening a 9000-ft² (840 m²) design and development center in Guadalajara, Mexico, this month, Martin Fischer said Hella:

• Is adding production lines to its high-tech electronics manufacturing facilities in Flora, IL

• Recently completed a 50,000-ft² (4650-m²) addition to its San Jose Iturbide electronics plant near Mexico City

• Will break ground next month on a 215,000-ft² (20,000-m²) plant in Irapuato, Mexico, to produce headlamps and rear-lighting systems. The new plant is slated to open in mid-2013.

• Will manufacture electronic products in Brazil under a partnership with Emicol, a large electronics and electromechanical components maker based in Sao Paulo.

• Production will begin this summer in a 15,000-ft² (1400-m²) addition to the company’s lighting plant in Guadalajara

• Is beefing up its product development teams in its Guadalajara and Plymouth, MI, tech centers. Over the past year, Hella has hired 80 people at its Plymouth center, mainly engineers.

The new lighting facilities in Irapuato and Guadalajara will increase Hella’s annual production capacity in the Americas for headlamps by 1.2 million units to 4.9 million. Production capacity for rear-combination lamps will increase by 1.5 million units to 4 million.

Fischer said that in a year or two, sales for the company’s electronic division will exceed those of its lighting division, given the “almost unlimited growth opportunity” for vehicle electronics. The company has six major electronics product lines: body, driver-assistance, energy management (for vehicle electrification), electric power steering, sensors, and actuators.

Those product lines cover what Fischer—who holds an electrical engineering Ph.D. (“Engineering is still where my heart beats,” he told SAE Magazines in an aside)—identified as the three main automotive industry trends: fuel economy, safety, and comfort—fuel economy being the most significant of the three.

One of the more important technology developments in fuel economy is stop/start, which, Fischer noted, is about to take off in the U.S. but which is already in use in Europe. Hella’s main products in support of that technology are intelligent battery sensors, dc-dc voltage converters, and voltage stabilizers, the latter two of which are important in addressing the problem in conventional vehicles of accessories shutting down during engine cranking because of the associated voltage drop.

Fischer noted in a discussion about stop/start that the next step in that technology is to shut the engine off during vehicle coast. Hella is in development of products to support this coming technology.

Another trend that favors Hella is greater use by automakers of LED lights, which consume less energy than conventional bulbs and offer a greater creative canvas in both interior and exterior applications. But they also are more sensitive to heat and are more expensive, Roger Ventosa, Director, Program Management and Marketing, Hella Lighting, Mexico and South America, told SAE Magazines at the briefing. He said use of LEDs is very limited in headlamp applications at the moment. Full-LED headlamps will not really take off for about four or five years in the U.S., said the degreed mechanical engineer.

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