A new approach to automotive manufacturing is trending today as direct result of the huge growth in cloud technology, big data/analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). The synergy of new technologies and trends, labeled Industry 4.0, is changing how manufacturers approach design, efficiency and comfort, and in particular, buyer interaction and the customer experience. This focus has shifted into high gear, driven by innovation, new customer lifestyles, and manufacturers who are now looking to “own the road.”
The Platform Economy Offers New Opportunities
In order for OEMs to stay competitive, it is becoming necessary to build new business models that leverage the continually evolving “platform economy.” Current examples of this include Uber, AirBnB and Spotify, which have embraced internet technologies to re-envision long-established service models into bold, convenient personalized platforms. As consumers get more comfortable with services delivered via web-enabled platforms, manufacturers are now looking to adapt and even perhaps introduce new platforms inside their products across various consumer engagement dimensions.
Such changes are already impacting how consumers shop for cars, select financing, and, with the advent of alternative eco-friendly motors, refuel them. As this trend continues, it has the potential to open a new world of competition driven by innovations designed to enhance the digital consumer experience as much as the driving one.
Platform innovations are also emerging from software giants such as Microsoft, GE or Siemens, whose Internet of Things operating systems connect machines to the digital world; while others come from startups that are looking to move fast and gain a share of this massive market. For instance, some car sharing platforms permit communities to share cars without owning them. Add to the mix that hybrid vehicles are more affordable and autonomous cars are gaining traction, and it’s clear that consumers are in control — and it’s up to the auto industry to embrace and lead transformation.
Connected Manufacturing Personalizes the Auto Industry
Automakers face an important challenge today: How do established and successful companies adapt and become fully-digital organizations while the industry moves to hybrid, electric and autonomous cars? Automotive advancements just within the last few years include driver-assistance systems such as automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and comfort functions such as gesture control and remote park control. Soon, the driving experience will connect cars to the road by more than just four tires.
As the consumer technology trends take hold, automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and suppliers are taking note and throwing more than just exploratory projects at them. Several providers have launched dedicated industry units to help OEMs and suppliers solve and manage the challenges they’re facing. Companies are working with their partners to create virtual automotive centers of excellence that leverage the new capabilities in cloud technology, big data/analytics and AI to produce faster results.
Three Key Drivers for Connected Manufacturing
Cloud Technology is enabling auto manufacturers to optimize their use of public, private or specifically hybrid cloud offerings, depending on automakers’ business needs and the best fit for the application, including custom end-to-end solutions. Manufacturers’ software needs are being supported by a digital 'thread' enabling the process from idea creation and strategy to prototyping, testing and market launch. IT now connects components from the office to the edge and prototyping through production. This transformation enables proven agile methodologies and highly dynamic processes to keep pace using the appropriate computing infrastructures. Automakers and their business partners are building products faster with increased customization, driven by customer demand and supported by digitization. They are now developing and testing new versatile production processes, and refining best practices, to drive continuous improvement across their value chain.
Big data/analytics is optimizing all phases of manufacturing and support. New analytic capabilities and solutions manage and analyze petabytes of data, helping manufacturers improve their testing activities, better manage their supply chains, anticipate and understand consumer needs and preferences, and optimize pricing on parts and products. At the plant level, new solutions ensure that data for production processes can be used even if real-time requirements must be met for time-critical interactions between robots, machines and production lines. Analytic tools on the shop floor and centralized IT let the production line work more seamlessly with engineering and sales, when looking to ship cars to dealers. Sensors in the product and in the environment provide data to make smart products self-sensing and self-improving, and analytics provide insights to change behavior in real time, as well as a feedback loop to improving product design and performance over time.
Artificial intelligence is also well on its way in advancing supply chain optimization and production capabilities. Using the latest Industry 4.0 standards and concepts, manufacturers are bringing supply chain and plants in line, and achieving new production objectives for efficiency, stability and increased collaboration. The “Industry 4.0 Platform” is designed to develop and operate the connected factory, sensing and managing demand signals throughout the supply chain. There’s a worldwide push to develop cyber-physical systems (CPS) — the result of integrating computation, networking and physical processes. Embedded control modules and networks monitor and control machinery, creating feedback loops where physical processes affect computations and vice versa. CPS strives to integrate the dynamics of the physical processes with those of software and networking, providing abstractions and modeling, design, and analysis techniques for an integrated system.
As a result of these digital transformation initiatives, IT service and solution innovators are helping automotive clients evolve from being purely car producers to being providers of new mobility ideas. Solutions such as development operations, hybrid cloud, and future virtual workplaces — specific to the added value of analytics, new production environments, and agile operation methods — can and are now being leveraged in real-time by OEM customers and suppliers to gain market share from the competition.
Ajay Kumar is VP and industry general manager, Manufacturing and Automotive, DXC Technology.