‘Industrial tourism’ starts in automotive sector

‘Industrial tourism’ starts in automotive sector

Tofaş is a joint venture between Turkey’s Koç Holding and Italy’s Fiat Chrysler.

It will celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2018.

These days it is possible to visit Tofaş factories, which are located in the western province of Bursa, as you would a museum.

“Factory Visits” are a common practice in the automotive sector in North America and Europe. Tofaş, which produces seven different brands under its roof, is the first company to provide such a service in Turkey.

The Tofaş factory produces 1,500 vehicles a day. And you can visit the entire factory - apart from the Research and Development (R&D) center and its paint shop - in exchange for a symbolic entry fee on certain days and hours of the week.

You can make a one-hour tour of production areas in groups of 20 people, with a minimum age of 13 for safety reasons.

“We have effectively started ‘industrial tourism’ in the automotive sector,” said Tofaş CEO Cengiz Eroldu. The factory sits on a one million-square-meter site and exports 73 percent of its production to 80 countries. Before the tour began, we had a conversation with Eroldu and factory director Erdal Şimşek.

We were especially interested in learning about the 4th Industrial Revolution, digitalization, R&D investment and the effects of automation on employment.

They said a total of 853 robots were working in the Bursa factory on the “Egea line” model, which is exported from Mexico to Saudi Arabia. Automation affects 95 percent of production.

“Although the amount of robots has increased over the years, our number of employees has not decreased. On the contrary, we are working on methods to integrate employees in production,” said Şimşek, adding that last year they employed 500 more people.

In 1994, 10,000 people could produce 200,000 vehicles, but today 10,000 people can produce 400,000 vehicles, he said. While automation morphs rapidly into “robotification,” the automotive sector will always need artisans to perform detailed handwork.

It is also a sector where the number of women employees is on the rise. This is certainly the case at Tofaş, where the female to male ratio has doubled in the last two years. At the factory, 500 women work on site and 400 in the office. Even the paint shop is headed by a woman. Tofaş ranks first place in Turkey in the 2016 R&D investments score list of the Joint Research Center, which operates under the European Commission. The amount of patents has increased 400 percent in the last three years.

We asked Eroldu where Tofaş stood in the 4th Industrial Revolution. “We must interpret Industry 4.0 according to our own dynamics and needs. It is important to choose useful technologies that bring added value,” he replied.

“If we did not take steps toward digitalization – let’s say Industry 4.0 practices – we could not produce 1500 vehicles a day on our production lines,” Eroldu said.

Regarding the digitalization process, Tofaş is currently working on “Cobot” or “Collaborative Robot” technology, where robots and people work together. “Cobot” is a secondary concept in Industry 4.0.

One day your car will evaluate the information it produces, enabling it to provide warnings such as “beware of the wheels.”

At the next level, it could even initiate contact directly with service stations.

Tofaş, Koç Holding, Erdal Şimşek, Cengiz Eroldu, Fiat, Chrysler