Connectivity and automation have changed our world in the last decade – 20 billion devices are presently connected via Internet of Things and 8 billion more are under production. This has not only facilitated human interaction with machines but also introduced machine-to-machine interactions. Going by the forecast provided by the statistics portal Statista, there will be almost 31 billion IoT devices by 2020 and this number is expected to cross 75 billion by 2025.
What does this mean for the automotive industry?
India’s automotive sector is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. It accounts for 7.1% of the country’s GDP, making it one of our most important sectors. Thus, to improve the current system, robotics, artificial intelligence and connectivity will penetrate the business and production processes.
Automation will help the auto industry react faster to market requirements, reduce manufacturing downtime, and improve efficiency and productivity of supply chains. The length of a project is another prime concern which calls for intervention by automation in manufacturing processes. Projects with quick return-on-investments and low-cost automation in India will improve market competitiveness along with better productivity. Bosch in India, for example, has incorporated this in the feeding systems for grinding machines.
Furthermore, India will witness a change in job requirements due to the connected industry revolution. Prior to Industry 3.0, an operator took on the role of a commander. He used to operate the machines and based on his skills, created values using the machine tool. In automated production i.e. Industry 3.0, the operator was the captain. He used to program the machines and maintain the availability of the machines. But in Industry 4.0, the operator will don the role of a conductor. He will interact with machines and robots, and continuously optimise their performance. At Bosch Industry 4.0 world conference, Prof. Thomas Bauernhansl from Fraunhofer IPA, Stuttgart stated that Industry 4.0 demands new skills, including software skills, and a deeper understanding of the process from shop floor workers. Thus, connected industry requires flexible working models and an even more flexible workmanship.
Automotive manufacturing, initially driven by volume-based mass production, has now given way to customisation on the shop floor. Connected manufacturing offers unique opportunities to the auto sector. It allows stakeholders of the industry to facilitate new business models and introduce innovative products with embedded systems. This move towards integrated functions will subsequently increase production-related gains and result in increased value addition.
The future of automotive industry will also witness value streams becoming more agile. Through adaptive manufacturing i.e. extensive utilisation of 3D-printing, value streams will move towards a software-based system. 3D-printing in Industry 4.0 will reduce the number of stocked spare parts leading to lesser inventory and better cash flow. A similar shift will also be noticed for products and components.
Automation will increase the quality standard for the automotive industry. However, it is important for the industry to look into the pitfalls as well. While some sources expect disruptive improvements in terms of quality, productivity and customer orientation, others are concerned about job losses, high investment costs and data security. For example, defects resulting from tool wear-out require poka-yokes (a Japanese term for ‘mistake-proofing’) in place to avoid occurrences at a mass production level. An increase in the level of automation will reduce the scope for flexibility and customisation.
Automation coupled with connectivity can improve transparency, facilitate real-time data analysis and continuously improve quality and environmental performance. They should be able to strike the right balance between level of automation and the degree of human interface to limit excessive use of resources. This will help companies deliver top-quality products using clean technology.