It is a disruptive time in the automotive industry. The industry that famously proclaimed customers could purchase a car in “any color, as long as it’s black” has been turned on its collective head. Henry Ford, the legendary automotive pioneer who uttered those words, was adamant in his belief that demands for more colors and options represented only 5% of the customer base and automakers should focus on the other 95%.
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What a difference a few decades make. Automotive manufacturers who not so long ago only worried about styling and horsepower must now anticipate the demands of an ever-more sophisticated customer base; a customer base that often values connectivity and convenience over aesthetics and performance. These customers will no longer settle for two or three option packages.
This insistence on an abundance of options and the flexibility to change the mix of those options at any time places increased pressure on margins for automakers — especially considering they are already dealing with competition from nontraditional automotive companies, an unpredictable regulatory environment and the natural, cyclical nature of the industry.
Despite the uncertainty and increased demand for customization, one constant remains: metal must be bent, poured or ground, plastic must be injected, and components must be assembled into a finished vehicle. Manufacturing is the one constant in an otherwise volatile industry and therefore it is extremely important that automakers make their manufacturing processes as efficient as possible.
Support for more customization and fast reaction to customer requests is important in today’s automotive landscape, but it comes at a significant cost. For decades, manufacturing processes achieved efficiency through standardization; fewer variables meant higher economies of scale, lower labor costs and fewer defects. Increased customization and flexibility requires more sophisticated, costly manufacturing processes. Factor in the lower sales volumes to spread those costs across and it is easy to understand the push for more efficiency.
It is no surprise then that auto manufacturers are investing heavily in industrial internet of things.
Fortunately, the automotive industry has a head start with IIoT. Automotive manufacturers were automating and connecting manufacturing equipment on the plant floor long before the term “internet of things” was coined. That experience makes it easier to see the value in collecting and analyzing data being generated by plant floor equipment.
The advanced shop floor management techniques of IIoT rely on this data to calculate actual machine performance versus planned machine performance in real time. This immediate feedback detects and predicts breakdowns or inefficiencies — in both processes and equipment — and allows operators to take corrective action if a deviation from target is detected.
At a macro level, plant managers can compare manufacturing performance between plants, lines or machines to ensure all processes are running at peak efficiency.
Data collected from plant floor equipment can also eliminate unscheduled downtime by assessing the health of critical equipment and predicting equipment failure to schedule repairs before a breakdown occurs. This paradigm shift from preventive to predictive is enabled through analysis of plant floor equipment data and seamless integration to enterprise asset management applications.
In a typical high-volume automotive manufacturing environment, it can be difficult to trace with precision the production lineage of a given product. But with IIoT technologies, access to historical data collected from manufacturing operations enables both backward and forward end-to-end traceability to the root cause of a product defect.
In the automotive industry, niche products are becoming more and more important and as automakers struggle to meet the demands of more sophisticated and demanding consumers. IIoT technology provides an effective way to offset the increased costs associated with lower volumes and highly customized vehicles.
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