Coming around the turn-the IoT automobile factory
Much of today’s Internet of Things (IoT) conversation revolves around end-user products that will transform how consumers live their lives. An increasingly hot topic, however, is how the IoT is changing how the world manufactures its goods. The automotive manufacturing sector is one industry already transforming into an even leaner production machine because of IoT connectivity.
Car makers LOVE the IoT
Digital programming in cars isn’t new. General Motors introduced the first pre-installed “electronic control units” (ECUs) in the 1970s to improve ignition timing and transmission shifting, and computer-controlled auto components have been evolving ever since. But improving the driving experience isn’t the only thing exciting manufacturers.
Where the IoT promises the most transformation is in the production of cars, not the use of them. Like every other industry, the automotive industry sees the IoT as a productivity enhancer, facilitating reduced costs, improved product performance and, consequently, more and happier car buyers.
Data drives productivity
By some estimates, the emerging “digital automotive factory” promises as much as $32 billion in annual production gains for the U.S. auto industry alone, based on new IoT-enabled inputs:
- Robotics not only replace the more expensive human worker, but also enhance the productivity of the remaining human workforce. Sensors will track and direct robot and human actions, collect data on production parts and systems, and reveal defects before they leave the shop floor.
- Simulation capabilities will eliminate months of complicated physical mock-ups, so design and development engineers can “experience” their innovations virtually and gather data through those IoT-connected devices and programs.
Supply chains are also near the top of the IoT transformation list. By using IoT technology to integrate intra-plant logistics, manufacturers will improve efficiencies on several levels:
- Smart storage will keep inventories up-to-date, reducing inventory cost by as much as 50 percent.
- Data-driven provisioning will allocate resources as necessary, reducing waste of time and effort.
- Analytics will offer fresh and immediate insights to decision makers, in response to consumer demand and market volatility.
Data drives production
The automotive factory floor is also dramatically reconfigured with the introduction of IoT capabilities:
- “Smart” equipment will self-monitor internal processes and make adjustments as needed, such as reducing energy usage or automatically shutting down when not in use.
- Predictive analytics will signal when each machine, or part thereof, is nearing the end of its life cycle, allowing a brief repair/replace moment, instead of a more expensive full line shutdown in the face of equipment failure.
- Quality improvements will also follow. Within the closed-loop manufacturing process, sensors and “smart” tools will continually send new data into servers, where machine learning can convert it into actionable data. An interface, either digital or human, can translate the new information into a better product, based on data that is integral to its construction.
Data improves products
Ultimately, the IoT-enabled auto factory provides innovation opportunities for IoT-enabled cars. There are already millions of “connected cars” that use digital applications to inform and entertain drivers. Music systems, mapping, gas gauges and station locations are all available, either through voice activation or with push button controls.
However, these “convenience” technologies do not achieve the full promise of the IoT-enabled vehicle, which will be solar-powered and self-driven. The solar industry continues to extend the capacity of car batteries, and the shift to self-driving vehicles is already underway. There are several test vehicles on the road with IoT programming, such as the “stop and go autopilot,” which analyzes lane availability in traffic jams, and the “highway autopilot” that includes blind-spot analysis for lane changes.
The IoT promises a brighter-than-ever future for the auto industry. Today, it reduces costs and improves production capacities; tomorrow, it will attract an ever-expanding consumer base with innovations that make driving both safer and more fun.