The executives gathered on the stage during the Automotive & Tire Industry Forum at Automation Fair repeatedly emphasized that historically the automotive industry has been slow – sluggish in embracing change. Then they each described innovative digitization programs in their respective companies that every nimble startup company should emulate.
The forum was moderated by Ben Stewart, vice president of product strategy at Plex Systems. Panelists included ZEVx CIO Darren Elliott, Black Donuts Engineering Founder and CEO Kai Hauvala, and Eagle Technologies Vice President of Engineering Jason Cleveland.
Coinciding with the breaking news that Ford Motor Company had chosen Rockwell Automation to advance its electric vehicle program, these experts drove straight to the most pressing issue in the automotive world. “What do you see in the EV transition and its impact on the industry?” Stewart asked.
“The demand for electric vehicles is incredible,” added Cleveland, whose company provides a turnkey solution for companies looking for an all-in-one solution for automated production and testing, and is evolving to serve the emerging EV market serve. He highlighted how automakers are being pushed to halve production times to remain competitive. They are using more automation processes to do this — particularly more sophisticated simulation and emulation programs — while placing more emphasis on the data that comes from those programs and processes to support more efficient efforts.
Hauvala added perspectives from the tire segment of the auto world, recognizing an increased demand for data, particularly in relation to quality and performance in the field, in the case of tires on the road.
These data pools include information from the production processes that go into the manufacture of all components of an electric vehicle and the data from these vehicles as they are used in the real world.
“The data we get from electric vehicles is immense — for monitoring, for maintenance, for performance optimization, to validate quality claims,” said Elliott. “Digitalization is crucial for us to be able to access this data to change and improve our processes.”
The panelists echoed each other’s challenges on their digital transformation journey. Consider standardizing simulations for different vehicle types or balancing speed versus accuracy requirements. Gaps in processes complicate these efforts, as does imprecise modeling.
And there wouldn’t be a real discussion of production hurdles in 2022 without mention of the supply chain. The panelists sympathized with the audience about the struggles it took them to produce the things they were trying to produce. Cleveland recommended relying on smarter simulation programs to reduce exposure to poor supply chains.
The panelists agreed that the acceptance of digitalization approaches sets these companies apart from competitors, especially when working with customers who are starting their own Industry 4.0 journey. Elliott said, “From a competitive perspective, it’s changing the way we structure our partner network — how we learn from them and figure out what they need to use our systems effectively.”
Eagle Technologies is able to better work with EV manufacturers to get things done in less time, noted Cleveland, who attributes the snowball effect of his company’s digital transformation to a 2018 invitation from Rockwell Automation to provide the battery pack assembly machine , integrated with Rockwell Automation technology for the California-based Electric Vehicle Innovation Center. “We would not have had our success without going digital.”
On the EV road, the asphalt is still wet. That trend is still in its infancy, especially for an industry that, as these panelists noted, is sluggish when it comes to change.
The panelists predicted big changes, positive changes, as this market matures. And while they warn of the normal landmines — cybersecurity vulnerabilities and data leaks, lack of executive commitment and unnecessary complexity — they are emboldened by an influx of digital-first engineers into the market; the opportunities remote work offers to bring global experts together to solve production problems; and the emerging tools and systems that can help those involved in all these different facets of electric vehicle production work quickly and efficiently enough to meet the insatiable demand for that product.
“I can’t imagine what we’re going to see in the next five years when Industry 4.0 really takes off, with more automation, more robots, more artificial intelligence and machine learning,” muses Cleveland, who’s also a fan of digitization as car-related metaphors. “It will be a fun ride to get there.”