The French forging and foundry sectors are booming. Many industries, including strategic sectors such as aeronautics, are calling on their expertise in metal production and processing. The sector, supported by internationally recognized know-how, brings together innovative and dynamic companies. In order to adapt to market developments, French forges and foundries have been taking the turn towards digitization for several years now and are equipping themselves with new-generation CMMS.
We met Olivier Vasseur, head of territories for the French Fédération Forge Fonderie (Forge-Foundry Federation). After presenting the Federation's role as a mediator at the service of its members, we discussed the importance of the community in the deployment of a digitization strategy.
MOBILITY WORK: Can you give us a brief overview of your background?
Olivier Vasseur: My career started about thirty years ago with a BTS (French advanced technician’s certificate) in Armentières, in the North of France. I have always worked in the industry, and more particularly in foundries, where I held various positions. In 2000 I joined FMGC, a company of the Farinia Group. I held various positions in production and process engineering until 2005.
At that time, FMGC had taken over a foundry for counterweights, V-Process casting and low-frequency electric melting in Bulgaria. So I spent four years there. Upon my return from Bulgaria, I had the opportunity to work in various companies. More specifically, I went to the Grandry Technologies foundry (editor's note, now Poclain Technicast). Then I went back to FMGC until 2015. That year I was contacted for a position as a technical manager at the Fédération Forge Fonderie.
I accepted the offer and for three years I held that position. In September 2018, I became a territories manager for the Fédération Forge Fonderie. As such, I am the referent of the members of the Federation, I promote our organization to non-members, and I am in charge of the territories’ animation.
What does this function of animating territories consist of?
The Federation represents French forges and foundries, as well as the mould and prototype sector. 450 forges and foundries are still established on our territory. Among them, 180 of them are members of the Federation.
We periodically organize information meetings on the Federation's expertise (legal, EHS, training, technical etc.), or other such as the Forge-Foundry of the future or energy efficiency.
Can you tell us a bit more about the Federation?
Like any Federation, our missions are to gather, represent, accompany and defend the interests of our members. France is the 3rd largest producer in Europe, behind Germany and Italy, and the 11th largest in the world. Our role is to represent them on several themes: legal (excluding social), environment & safety, training and communication.
In this respect, we act mainly at the local and European level. We represent our companies in discussions and take part in exchanges alongside the CAEF, for foundries, and EUROFORGE.
What means of action does the Fédération Forge Fonderie have at its disposal?
Our action is divided into several axes.
On the environmental front, for example, the Federation can represent companies in discussions at the European level. Emission limits (gas discharges, dust, etc.) are defined by the European Union (EU): these are known as BREFs (Best Available Techniques Reference Documents). In 2018, audits were carried out in this area in representative foundries. The role of the Federation is to represent French forges and foundries in order to make their voice heard and define new emission rates for the years to come. To do this, we take into account current emissions, the BREFs deployed in France and try to negotiate emission rates for our forges and foundries by 2022-2024.
At the legal level, we mainly intervene in the context of sales contracts, disputes that may arise between a foundryman or blacksmith and a customer. We have a legal director who, on request, assists our members in these matters.
Then we have the communications division, whose objective is to promote our businesses and companies in the field of metal transformation. To do this, we offer our own magazine, La Revue Forge Fonderie, which focuses on developments and news of our businesses. In figures, it represents four issues a year with a circulation of 3,500 copies and distribution to companies in the sector and the ecosystem.
Finally, we are working on a whole range of economic and statistical issues. We aggregate all production data for the year, on all metals and the different companies (members and non-members).
This includes statistics in terms of sales, products, materials used, as well as the distribution of the various metals produced over the entire year. In 2017, for example, French forging and foundry companies accounted for just over 7 billion in turnover. We also consider the number of employees, i.e. 38,000 in the two trades combined.
All this enables us to draw up an overview of our businesses, their development and their distribution in the major markets, compared to other countries, particularly in Europe. As an indication, we are more than 50% present in the automotive sector, 20% in the mechanical engineering, public works, energy and agricultural sectors, and 20% in the building and road sector.
What are the initiatives undertaken by the Federation to support the digitization of companies?
Two years ago, we launched a working group called "Forge Foundry X.0" in which Mobility Work participates. Out of our 180 members, about 20 companies are taking part. We are dealing with passionate people who want to move forward. It works very well because the subjects are focused on the field. The forging and foundry professions have particular constraints and needs, particularly due to the difficulty of the working environment (heat, dust, etc.).
We deliberately chose not to call it 4.0 because not all companies are at the same level in terms of digital transformation.
We hear a lot about Industry 4.0. So we wanted to create a working group where companies can discuss topics such as production machine connectivity, data collection and processing, ERP, additive manufacturing, robotics and cobotics... The next-gen CMMS Mobility Work (competurized maintenance management system) is part of this first part that I call "digitization".
We also work on the evolution of skills and the new training needs of companies.
This part of the work is very field-oriented. A company receives us and organizes exchanges around the subject of industry 4.0. The topics are very varied, from the use of ABS or PLA printers for the general public within companies to data collection. Sometimes we give presentations, for example on Mobility Work. For instance, one of the meetings took place at Setforge, which has already deployed Mobility Work in a group, so the presentation was field-oriented.
My role is to organize meetings, find host companies or interesting topics to address in our reflections.
How does digital transformation fit into corporate strategy?
We work with small companies and large groups: it's a very varied public, the needs are not the same. Therefore, the idea is not to enter the 4.0 industry at all costs. The focus is more on continuous improvement. That's how I see the 4.0 industry: we move forward by gradually integrating the new technologies at our disposal.
It doesn't always work the first time. That's why we rely on exchanges and feedback: it allows companies to get involved in digitization more quickly, by integrating successes but also failures.
We often hear that the French industrial landscape, and particularly SMEs, is lagging behind in terms of digital transformation. How do you feel about it?
It should be noted that in France, the weight of industry in the national economy is less than in other European countries. It represents 12.4% of GDP, whereas in Germany it accounts for 20.3% of GDP. As a result, French industry does not benefit from the same level of aid, and in particular from the same level of investment by the government.
This is why the working group was called the X.0 working group. Some people say that French companies are not yet at industry 3.0, that we are at 2.5. We have missed the boat on robotization, for example, compared to our German and Italian neighbors.
This situation is often more complicated for small structures than for large groups. The latter are more structured. SMEs, on the other hand, do not always know where to start their digitization.
This is where the working group can help the Fédération Forge Fonderie. They get their inspiration from the topics discussed and agree on work guidelines, from which they can establish a medium or long-term strategy. The objective is to move forward in stages.
Do companies have the necessary means and tools to transition towards digitization?
We found that companies were collecting a lot of production data, but did not always know how to use it afterwards. It is important to remember that until a few years ago, companies did not exchange as much data or work methods.
We therefore try to collaborate with companies that know or offer CMMS solutions. This is also part of the working group's approach. An organization comes to present its solution to members of the working group, who can benefit from its expertise. One of them even offered to share the application it had developed with our members. We have therefore developed an exchange platform on the Federation's website, where the plans for this solution are stored. Everyone can then retrieve them and adapt them to their plant.
Similarly, we attended two POCs on data collection at Setforge. On this occasion, Mobility Work presented its next generation solution. The second speaker was specialized in predictive maintenance and introduced a company offering a sensor with embedded AI (artificial intelligence). After an adjustment and learning phase, the sensor is able to recognize the different cycles of a piece of equipment and detect possible anomalies.
The maintenance teams receive an alert and can intervene immediately. This enables a predictive maintenance strategy to be set up and to react according to the actual condition of the equipment.
How are these new practices received (e.g. CMMS)?
Maintenance management tools (CMMS) often represent a cost whose return on investment is difficult to quantify. Let's take an example: on the one hand, when you equip yourself with a robot, you can calculate the benefits (in terms of time, human resources, etc.) that you will derive from it. On the other hand, we know that data collection and analysis will enable us to improve quality and productivity, but it is difficult to evaluate precisely, and this is all the more true for SMEs.
But there are more affordable solutions, such as Mobility Work CMMS. Thanks to a monthly subscription, there is no significant upfront investment. The CMMS can easily be tested. It also allows you to take a first step towards industry 4.0 and digitization as well as maintenance networking. What's more, the next-gen CMMS makes it easier to attract young professionals.
It is often said that the younger generations are turning their backs on the industrial sector. In your opinion, will industry 4.0 and digitization help reverse this trend?
The interest of the younger generation in the forging and foundry trades, as well as in industry in general, is a real problem today. But I think these new tools are a plus, because they are more attractive to the younger generation. CMMS such as Mobility Work allow people to exchange ideas and to network.
Nevertheless, the Fédération Forge Fonderie is involved in the training and awareness of young people. The ESFF (Forge and Foundry School), for example, trains around thirty engineers every year as apprentices. Its director participates in each of our meetings with CETIM (Mechanical Industries’ Technical Center) and CTIF (Industrial Foundry Technical Center), in order to integrate "4.0" modules into their training courses and for the technical centres to offer services in connection with the plant of the future as close as possible to industrial needs.
We also offered to finance a subscription to Electrolab, a hackerspace based in Nanterre, for ESFF's apprentice engineers to develop their projects there. It is essential that future engineers and technicians integrate digitization into their vision.
Thanks to Mr Vasseur for his testimony on the future of digitization in the French forges and foundries. Subscribe to our newsletter to follow our activity!