Published on 2020-09-08 12:16:40 UTC in Sustainable Manufacturing
The automotive industry throughout Europe is changing. It’s been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has exacerbated declining sales. And there have been other problems. For instance, the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) forecasts that German vehicle manufacturers and suppliers could lose a quarter of their total workforce by 2030. A similarly gloomy picture is also emerging in the UK. Offsetting this is a growing demand for electric cars, which could lead to many new jobs being created.
Other challenges facing the industry include strong competition from Asia, along with pressure to provide innovation and sustainability. And the automotive sector possibly depends too much on technologies such as batteries.
To meet today's challenges and to remain competitive, European automotive manufacturers and suppliers must reposition themselves as quickly as possible. They need to develop new, innovative and integrated strategies to future-proof their production and processes. These will include innovative technologies, robotics, sensors, artificial intelligence (AI) and integrated solutions. Meanwhile, industry experts believe that the move towards electro-mobility (e-mobility) is now much more feasible and will boost both the efficiency and sustainability of production processes.
Overcoming the barriers
However, these changes bring their own challenges and potential obstacles. These include the many different national and international regulations that automotive companies face, including strict European data protection guidelines.
Solutions include developing a more uniform international approach; the increasing use of technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI); and closer relationships with strong integration and technology partners. This will facilitate the transformation from a traditional automobile manufacturer to a high-flexibility, low-volume e-mobility company. Meanwhile, public funding and closer collaboration between universities, manufacturers, system integrators and users are also needed to drive innovation forward. Underpinning all of this is the need for a solid knowledge base.
Migrating to the factory of the future
In this new world, data analysis will become increasingly important. Many new technologies, such as AI and the Internet of Things (IoT), require integrated and well-thought-out data strategies. One example is Predictive Maintenance: the maintenance of machines based on information collected at the machine level (‘at the edge’). Powerful software solutions are vital for ensuring connectivity and communication between the systems, easing the transition to the factory of the future. For example, production lines can be ‘smartly’ connected to mobile robots, driverless transport systems (automated guided vehicles), collaborative robots (cobots), ERP, MES etc.
For instance, BMW has increased flexibility and links between work processes by using innovative transport and logistics concepts. These include mobile LD robots from OMRON for transporting materials for production. These autonomous intelligent vehicles (AIVs) are equipped with a conveyor attachment and software that connects the Enterprise Manager with the company's ERP system.
Meanwhile, smart robotics will also become increasingly important to the e-mobility industry, such as cobots that interact with other technologies. And an intelligent warehouse system flanked by mobile robots can significantly increase process efficiency while reducing manual effort as well as errors and waste. Such trends could, perhaps, herald a return to optimism for the European automotive sector.
Moving to e-mobility: seven tips for success
Focus on the big picture. Automotive companies need to move from being pure suppliers to becoming technological and strategic partners. This will involve a proactive approach based on customer-centric production. The future will increasingly revolve around large-scale, bespoke production instead of mass production.
Develop a unified vision. Excellent communication is needed between you and your partners and customers so that you all adopt a similar approach. This also means questioning how production processes can be adapted and transformed to address an increasingly flexible market.
Understand the potential. Your management team and employees need to know as much as possible about new technologies and their potential advantages. This will enable them to be used efficiently and in many different ways.
Blend automation with AI. Artificial intelligence can offer additional benefits for business decisions. It can help you to avoid mistakes and will provide insights into production processes that weren’t previously possible.
Look at existing applications. Instead of evaluating technologies theoretically, look at use cases so that you can gain a better understanding and evaluation of the advantages of an application.
Think big, start small. New technologies come with numerous challenges and hurdles. Gather all the background knowledge and experience you can. Start with smaller pilot projects that can be expanded and adapted later.
Change the crisis into an opportunity. Even if the current situation slows down innovations, focus on positive opportunities – such as the advantages of human-machine collaboration – to see where you can start to take action.