Is Poland becoming the most important center of automotive electronics in Europe after Germany?
While Nvidia and automotive components supplier ZF were making their big autonomous vehicle announcements at CES 2018 in Las Vegas, back in Europe, ZF had also announced it was opening up a new facility in Poland focused on development and manufacture of advanced safety electronics for automotive.
At CES, ZF revealed that its ProAI technology and control box, developed in conjunction with Nvidia, has progressed from concept to a production-ready system. A Chinese car manufacturer will be the first customer to install the control box in a vehicle with autonomous driving features, as a collaborative project between ZF, Nvidia and Baidu. This open cooperation network is part of ZF’s "vision zero" ecosystem strategy, whose long-term goal is an accident and emission-free world.
Michael Hankel, a member of the board of management at ZF Friedrichshafen AG, said though a press statement that the deal means that ZF is "at the forefront of democratizing autonomous driving in a mass mobility market."
Simultaneously, ZF Global Electronics said it would expand its engineering and manufacturing capacity for advanced safety electronics in Poland, to meet increasing European demand and continuously improve its competitiveness and its vision zero goal.
Poland is increasingly becoming both an automotive and electronics hub, and could easily be the second largest automotive hub in Europe after Germany. According to the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, out of 40 car and engine plants located in Central Eastern Europe (CEE), 16 are based in Poland. With vehicles, parts and accessories sales, this accounts for about 11 percent of the country’s total exports in 2013. Almost 80 percent of Polish automotive exports is directed to the EU markets. Major OEMs in Poland include VW, GM, Nissan, Fiat and Scania.
There has been a raft of auto industry announcements over the last year directed towards Poland. These include one last December, in which Toyota said it would invest $113 million in a hybrid car factory in Poland, and LG Chem's plans to open Europe’s largest car battery factory in Poland this year.
As with many clusters with a number of large players, an entire ecosystem evolves around the whole value chain — from design through to manufacture. In Poland, the electronics sector is also prominent (not necessarily just in automotive), with companies like LG Display, Jabil, Sharp, Funai, LG Electronics, Alcatel-Lucent, Kimball Electronics and Flextronics.
ZF already had established an electronics engineering center over a decade ago in Czestochowa, Poland, with approximately 350 employees. Last October, it opened a new design center in Lodz, Poland, with a target of 200 electronics engineers/technicians, where it is still currently hiring.
Speaking in response to ZF’s latest expansion, a company spokesperson said, “The advanced safety systems we are developing here include driver assist systems as we continue to ramp up camera production for advanced safety and automated driving functions and applications. We will also produce safety electronics in the occupant safety systems arena such as next generation airbag electronic control units and crash sensors. As the center reaches full capacity it will produce a full cross section of ZF electronics related to safety and autonomous driving.”
He added, “We chose Poland as we have a significant presence in Czestochowa including our original Poland electronics technical center and a large occupant safety business and additional product lines and we have more than 6,000 employees in this area and approximately 8,000 in Poland overall.”
Asked about the choice of location, he said the availability of skilled electronics engineers was definitely one of the pluses they found in Poland. “It is also important for us to expand our electronics footprint for manufacturing and development in Europe and globally — we currently also have major electronics technical centers and manufacturing in North America (two in Michigan) Asia (Shanghai and Hyderabad, India) South America (Limeira, Brazil) — these are some of the 13 technical centers for ZF global electronics.”
A new manufacturing plant will also be established in Czestochowa, supporting all active and passive safety product lines including advanced camera generations for active safety and occupant safety electronics such as airbag control units. This facility will be operational by the end of 2019 and will employ more than 300 people when at capacity.
— Nitin Dahad is a European correspondent for EE Times.
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