IGB Automotive, a division of I.G. Bauerhin, has been delivering cutting-edge seating solutions to the global automotive industry since 1976. Reinold Kosciuw, sales manager for the company's North American division, sits down to talk about the evolutionary path their products have taken, and how they're able to consistently deliver time and time again for leading automotive companies, some of the world’s most demanding customers. Steve Engelhardt reports.
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Although the company’s roots actually stretch all the way back to 1840 with the establishment of a weaving mill in Gruendau-Rothenbergen, Germany, IGB’s modern identity didn’t fully take hold until nearly a century and a half later, when they began producing seat heaters for the rapidly growing automotive industry in Europe, a progression that took form after initially developing heated textile technology in 1949. “From about 1976 on, the company really grew in a rapid manner and in building a reputation for both quality and innovation, it was able to secure contracts and install its seating products inside vehicles manufactured by some of Europe’s largest automotive companies,” says Kosciuw.
It was in 1992 when U.S. automotive giants like Ford and General Motors caught wind of the company’s prowess and requested that the company establish a presence in North America in order to efficiently meet the rising demand for IGB’s seating products within cars and trucks.
“As a supplier to automotive OEM’s, it’s extremely beneficial and almost necessary for us to be close to them in order to consistently deliver on the efficiency and quality that they demand,” he says, adding, “So we made the decision to create IGB North America in 1992, with our orginal headquarters being in Detroit, Michigan.” And what began in Detroit eventually shifted to nearby Windsor, Ontario, and the company has grown to the point today where it boasts an additional manufacturing facility as well in Agua Prieta, Mexico, just south of the U.S. border.
Kosciuw says that the decision to open operations in North America has been extremely beneficial, with the company expanding its customer base and product line due to consistent market success year over year. “Our main product is the seat heater, but today we also offer seat ventilation systems, electronic modules, occupant detection systems, and even heated steering wheels.”
Yet, in an automotive supplier market well saturated with competition, what is it that elevates IGB’s products over others? “Seat heaters are defined not only by their ability to heat up quickly and consistently, but also by how easy they can be installed and fit within the rest of the seat’s environment, which can often be crowded with a number of other components and modules,” Kosciuw says, adding, “Effectively, its about performance output, and we have been very successful in meeting and exceeding such requests.”
Part of it comes from the company’s commitment to having an innovative identity. “We have a significant research and development presence at our headquarters in Germany with respect to new product development, and additionally have engineering capabilities at our office in Canada so that we can quickly adapt to any needs that may arise from our customers.”
With respect to new products, Kosciuw says in addition to developing a panel heating platform that has recently been rolled out across Europe for the small family and compact car market, they are also currently working with a major North American OEM on a state-of-the-art occupant detection system for passenger seats, designed to make riding in a car even safer.
“With seatbelt reminder systems, they typically are located inside the buckle, and although they do send repeated notifications, the fact of the matter is that some people ultimately choose not to wear their seatbelt,” he says, adding, “This issue gets compounded when you consider how most modern air bag systems for the passenger are designed to only go off if there is a passenger detected in the seat; the source of which coming from the occupant detection system in the buckle.”
Kosciuw says that the OEM came to IGB with the idea of placing the occupant detection system inside the actual seat instead, an area they were naturally quite experienced in delivering solutions for. “We worked together to engineer the heating wire that is connected to our seat heating system to also be able to power the detection system as well,” he says, adding, “Ultimately, they were able to use a wire – our wire – already located in the seat for a very specialized function, and it’s the first time something like that has been done here in North America.” And he says the detection system is sensitive enough to tell the difference between a human sitting on the seat and inanimate objects like a briefcase that otherwise wouldn’t warrant airbag protection.
Close to the Customer
Innovation aside, the other element that differentiates IGB from the competition is its strong manufacturing presence in North America and beyond. “Our main office is in Windsor, Ontario, which is actually south of Detroit, and provides us with a close proximity to a number of North America’s leading automotive companies, enabling clear and effective communication and service for them,” he says.
Their other facility, and the main source of their production for the North American market, is in Agua Prieta, Mexico, a town located right on the U.S./Mexico border. Kosciuw says that they initially handled the bulk of their production at their Windsor location, but opted to establish a Mexico location and shift activity there in response to a number of major automotive companies choosing to take their production plants there as well. “We view our Mexico facility as a huge strength for us, and in addition to a strong talent pool already down there, we have invested significantly in training a workforce of more than 300 individuals so that the quality that IGB is known for, is displayed on a daily basis.”
Kosciuw adds that each of their facilities are certified in ISO/TS 16949, which makes sure that each and every component produced under the roof of their facilities is fully tested and in accordance with the characteristics of proper heating elements before leaving the end of the line. “Our customers demand the best out of us, and we expect the same out of ourselves, so we have made sure that from a manufacturing standpoint, everything is done with precision and utmost care.”
Kosciuw says that IGB had a successful year in 2014, and with some of their new products, like the occupant detection system, panel heating, and heated steering wheels hitting larger markets, he expects 2015 to be even better. “Our products continue to penetrate all levels of the automotive market more and more, and we’re very excited about what the future holds for us.”
The seat dynamics within cars often get taken for granted when people think about what makes a car appealing to them. But without seat comfort, much of what defines the experience of driving or riding in a car is lost. IGB Automotive has played a large role in this for decades, and looks to do for many years to come.