A silent revolution is transforming the UK’s automotive industry.
One in 10 new cars sold in October was an electric or hybrid vehicle, according to data from the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders.
Electric vehicles (EVs) are set to become an increasingly common sight on our roads over the next five to 10 years, especially as the government continues to push the adoption of them with its Go Ultra Low campaign.
Beyond the environmental benefits of switching from petrol and diesel cars, sales of EVs are being driven by conscious consumers looking to reduce their cost of ownership.
As demand for EVs grows, it will inevitably place more pressure on automotive manufacturers to ensure the vehicles keep rolling off the production line. To meet this demand, a smarter means of manufacturing will be needed.
So what will this look like and how will smart technology improve manufacturing for automakers?
When equipment or machinery fails, it can lead to a shutdown of a whole factory in order to carry out the necessary repairs. One minute of unexpected downtime in automotive manufacturing can cost $22,000 (£17,090) a minute.
By installing a variety of sensors (e.g. those that can detect anomalies in vibration levels and motion) on equipment and machinery, automakers can monitor the health of assets in real-time and predict when failures might occur. As a result, maintenance events can be carried out well in advance, minimising the likelihood of downtime.
Even smart tags powered by Near Field Communication, that are read by smartphones, can be used to turn ‘dumb’ assets into smart ones, and they can then be monitored around the clock.
Relying on artificial intelligence (AI)-based algorithms to collate data and then crunch it means automakers can not only optimise their maintenance plans but also improve spare parts management.
If automakers know when failures are likely to occur, this data can be shared with those who make the procurement decisions. Spare parts can then be ordered on-demand, meaning automakers should never be understocked or overstocked and can avoid operational outages.
Another use of AI that is set to feature prominently in the car factory of the future is spotting paint defects or cracks in glass that aren’t necessarily visible to the naked eye. AI-powered visual quality inspection is reported to be up to 90% more accurate than human workers, which can lead to a 50% boost in productivity.
With fewer problems affecting the production line, automakers’ operations end up being leaner and more efficient. And because they’re reducing their maintenance, they have more resources at their disposal to invest in research and development.
What’s more, because human workers will be assisted by the latest and smartest technology, some employees will be freed from mundane and repetitive tasks. As a result, there will be employees moving into strategic roles, whose job will be to work out how innovation can help unlock future long-term growth.
A Capgemini report published in 2018 identified the automotive sector as the most enthusiastic industry in which to set up a smart factory. The research found that companies in the sector have higher targets when it comes to digitalising operations than those in other sectors.
By 2022, automakers anticipate that just under a quarter (24%) of their factories will be smart ones. Just under half (49%) have already invested more than $250m (£193.3m) in smart factories.
There is an added incentive for automakers to make their manufacturing operations smart: it’s been proven that green consumers looking to lower their carbon footprints are more likely to purchase products that have been manufactured by companies with green credentials.
Like consumers, businesses are also continuously looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprints. Managing fleets of vehicles can be costly and challenging, even when a telematics system is implemented to optimise driver behaviour and to be fuel-efficient.
The French state-backed energy giant EDF has created an online hub, Electric Vehicles by EDF, designed as a one stop shop for SMEs to enquire and find out about EV fleet leasing, charge point installation and the cost savings they could make by switching to electric. Hack & Craft was brought in to pilot and develop the online EV hub.
According to Geotab, a global leader in the Internet of Things and connected transportation, 46% of UK-based fleets are without electric vehicles. But of those, 89% of fleet managers expect them to play a key role in their company’s fleet by 2028. The government has said that most new cars and vans from 2030 must be electric.
While there are some question marks over how energy-efficient EV lithium-ion battery production is, as automakers invest more time and money in R&D, the processes which are used to manufacture EV batteries will become more innovative.
Smarter operations and a commitment from automakers to reduce energy levels in their manufacturing processes will help EVs to go mainstream, putting the UK on the road to a greener and cleaner future.
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