Looming government mandates calling for reductions in fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions also are driving LED popularity, because the technology can slash energy consumption of a vehicle.

In North America, demand for innovative lighting has driven up Magneti Marelli sales by $700 million in recent years. It expects the unit’s revenue to hit $1 billion this year.

Magneti Marelli currently ranks as the third-largest lighting supplier in North America, although it is the No.1 supplier of lighting technologies worldwide on the strength of 22 million headlamps and 22 million rear lights produced annually.

To accommodate North American growth, the supplier recently moved its Farmington Hills, MI, technical center into a bigger location nearer to Fiat-controlled Chrysler in Auburn Hills, MI.

A new exhaust-equipment plant in Michigan starts production in September, as well, and Magneti Marelli wants to open another electronics facility somewhere in the U.S. soon. It also operates manufacturing plants in Ciudad Juárez and Tepotzotlán, Mexico.

“The market is expanding, capacity is tight,” Rosseau tells WardsAuto during a tour of the Pulaski facility.

The Pulaski location is Magneti Marelli’s first lighting manufacturing site in the U.S. State of Tennessee investment incentives, as well as a Magneti Marelli shock-absorber factory already operating on the site, also played roles in choosing the location.

According to Greg Galloway, plant manager at Pulaski, the former shock and strut assembly area now accommodating the lighting shop moved through step one of Fiat’s vaunted World Class Manufacturing process with its opening and faces the first audit of its safety- and quality-maintenance program in December.

WCM already has yielded results, Galloway says.

Video surveillance of training sessions in the general assembly area revealed wiring harnesses loosely packed into shipping boxes would become tangled “like spaghetti” and cause a 6-second delay in attachment to a DRL headlamp.

Leaning on some local Pulaski craftsmen, a “gravity box” was designed and manufactured. Now the harnesses hang cleanly and workers can perform the task in four seconds, as required by WCM.

Galloway, who joined Magneti Marelli to open the Pulaski plant in his hometown of 8,700 residents from a lighting supplier to Hyundai-Kia, says the wiring harness solution says as much about the local talent pool as it does WCM.

The Tennessee Technology Center at Pulaski pre-screened 500 applicants to help the supplier find candidates already living in the area.

“That is a permanent solution,” Galloway says. “Recruiting people in is not a permanent solution. You can find qualified, capable people here.”

A tour of the plant begins in the injection-molding area, where Comau 6-axis robots and smaller SACMI units operate 12 presses – the largest a 1,500-ton (1,361-t), 2-color tool – and a pair of annealing ovens. Injection molding for the Cherokee lamps, performed in a 2-shot process, takes 30 seconds.

Additional presses and ovens will be added as the facility earns more customers.

Press dies are as large as 25 tons (23 t) and are built to last 1 million shots, or the product lifecycle of a vehicle plus 15 years of service parts.

The renovated facility gleams with fresh paint and cleanliness is a priority, says Mike Pillen, pre-production manager at Pulaski.

For example, spare arms for the injection-molding robots are stored in a clean cabinet near the tools so they can be switched out quickly and without becoming contaminated. Operator areas of the presses are outfitted with pressurized air hoses and vacuums so workers can tidy up after their shifts.

“It is critical in a lighting environment to have no contaminates,” says Pillen, who joined Magneti Marelli from Nissan as the second Pulaski employee behind Galloway. “We put a premium on a clean house.”

A metalizer, used to project aluminum onto plastic for styling and reflective purposes, sits alongside a hard-coating and final-inspection area.

Pulaski’s $1.4 million hard-coat booth uses a flow-coating process, rather than an atomized method, for parts to minimize scrap and maintenance costs.

“It takes longer to tune a part, but the payback is less scrap,” Pillen says.

In the general assembly area at the rear of the facility, operators use Allen-Bradley programmable controllers to assemble one lamp set per minute for the Cherokee. The operators undergo four weeks of training before joining the assembly line, focusing on safety first, proper ergonomics and parts handling.

Looking ahead, Magneti Marelli could branch out into interior lighting, where it currently has just a toe in the water. Do not expect a big push, however, says Stáphane Védi, CEO- Automotive Lighting, NAFTA, for Magneti Marelli.

“As we grow, we want to focus on our core competencies,” he says.

jamend@wardsauto.com