HOLLY, Michigan, USA -- Fourteen years ago, it took vision to see the promise of rearview cameras in the auto industry.
Regulators had not set any requirements regarding rear visibility, and automakers had not yet made cameras an essential part of dashboards.
"But we had seen this coming," said Swamy Kotagiri, chief technology officer at Canada's Magna International. The diversified auto supplier was one of the first to provide cameras for vision systems for automakers, with one customer under contract for 350,000 units in 2007.
Today, a combination of federal mandates for rearview visibility and the rapid development of a market for advanced driver-assistance systems has entrenched the role of cameras in current and future vehicles, and the global supplier is racing to meet growing demand.
On Wednesday, Magna's electronics division opened a $50 million factory here, near Flint, Michigan, that provides 230,000 square feet for manufacturing cameras and vision systems. Kotagiri says the company now makes about 12 million cameras a year for a dozen customers.
More than 600 employees will work at the plant, which consolidates work that had been done at three nearby locations and leaves room for growth. The factory is expected to be fully operational by fall 2020. Components will ship to more than 300 global locations.
Magna has produced more than 46 million components for driver-assist systems, and Kotagiri views that experience as a building block toward fully autonomous vehicles.
Magna has seen the need for advanced driver-assistance systems rise exponentially, he said. "Our momentum continues as we work to combine cameras with other sensors. … The path to full autonomy lies in the advanced driver-assist system features that we're making today."
In addition to manufacturing cameras and driver-assist components, the plant will house Magna's advanced robotics r&d testing lab, which is allowing the company to build and tailor more efficient robots and production processes at factories around the globe.
It will also house a joint venture established with Rohinni last year that aims to bring paper-thin, flexible, micro-LED products to the market.
Overall, Magna has 24 factories in Michigan that employ about 10,000 workers.