Djan Castro, ICT Manager - Manufacturing at Stellantis South America, gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the systems-related innovations he’s introducing at scale in vehicle manufacturing.
Amir Razmara: There are so many congratulations in order for all of the new positions you’ve advanced into since we last talked. Tell us about your journey over the last several years at FCA and now, after FCA’s merger with Groupe PSA, at Stellantis.
Djan Castro: I’m eager to begin my new position as ICT Manager for Manufacturing after holding so many different roles throughout the last ten years, from Sales and Marketing to Head of Analytics, Digital Transformation and Innovation, and CTO. Taking on this new challenge makes me feel young again. I get butterflies in my stomach, but it’s good! Besides, changing positions gives you the freedom to be a newbie and ask about anything, which is sometimes an advantage.
AR: Tell us more about your new role.
DC: It’s a very intense role because Stellantis has more than one third of the vehicle market in South America. To support this, I have five vehicle plants across two different countries, three engine plants, and four components plants, and each of these plants involves almost 24/7 vehicle manufacturing production, some of which supports Stellantis worldwide.
This production is highly assisted by technology. If a system malfunctions for even a few seconds, the entire production line stops, because it is the system that tells the machines what to do, from what color to put in a car to what force to apply to a screwdriver. A lot of adjustments are done by the system, so the dependence on IT in manufacturing is incredible. Thankfully, I have a very experienced team who can solve most issues, but I still need to be closely involved since there’s a huge capital on this venture. The first and most critical responsibility is to keep production going, but it’s also very important to introduce innovation.
For example, last year we launched our first 5G network at one of our plants to support a visual system that improves the vehicle quality, and we are planning right now to expand this solution beyond Stellantis to connect our suppliers with our factories, improving the overall efficiency of the process.
Another innovation opportunity is related to our data. We’ve collected tons of data on thousands of machines, so we’re using this and applying algorithms that help us proactively monitor machine health to prevent them from failing during production.
AR: The higher up one goes in technology management, the harder it has become to maintain hands-on involvement in activities like coding. How do you personally balance this?
DC: I used to support all of our development processes, but nowadays it’s not possible because there are so many frameworks and technologies. Instead I focus on strategy, driving my teams to the best solution. To do this, you have to know your business very well and create a collaborative environment in which you can utilize your team’s technological expertise but keep it aligned with business goals.
AR: How do you navigate conversations between engineers and business stakeholders?
DC: I still speak both languages, and I actually make time to study technology in my free time because I find it so fascinating. In fact, I used to teach IT classes at the university level. This enables me to talk with my more technical team members. That said, technology today is so complex and extensive that no one can keep up with the amount of information anymore, so you need to utilize specialists from all different areas to design the best solutions. Because I’ve spent time in so many different departments of the company, I can understand and translate the needs of each.
AR: Given the rate at which innovative technologies and tools are introduced, how do you ensure that your team is up to speed with new solutions?
DC: People in technology really like experimenting with and trying new technologies, so we ensure that they are empowered to try whatever they want. Of course, before anything goes to production, we have to be very critical and selective. But if we don’t let our people try new technologies, they cannot propose better solutions. Our internal survey shows that people really like to try new tech, so if we do not offer this opportunity, they may decide to not work for us any more. They have to experience that freedom before we filter their ideas.
AR: Mergers are always exciting because they introduce new talent, but they also change the rhythm of your day-to-day routine. How has the FCA/Groupe PSA merger affected you?
DC: We’re talking about a merger of 400,000 employees around the world, so it takes time to adjust. We just had the one year anniversary of our merger, and we’re still sorting things out. I will note that our South America geography is highly visible right now and is being utilized to inform global procedures since our practices have generated excellent results.
Right now we operate as one company, but we are still on different technology stacks and systems. Our first step was to unify to define one common goal, which we’ve done quite successfully. Now we’re on step two: integrative systems.
AR: Where do you see the evolution of your infrastructure progressing?
DC: The pandemic accelerated all areas of digital transformation. I still see cloud continuing to grow, especially because cloud platforms provide a better way to deliver value to customers, and they have the benefit of being more cost-effective while also being on the front line of innovations. But it’s important to remember that software itself is very important, as it defines everything from networks to hardware, so I’ve suggested that we increase our DevSecOps disciplines, because this is a stepping stone for development.
AR: Thank you so much for the insightful conversation, Djan. I look forward to catching up again soon and watching as your plans come to fruition.
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Amir Razmara is the Founder and Chief Technology Officer at Avenue Code.