5 Tech Trends Driving Growth in Automotive Manufacturing
Let's discuss how IoT, connectivity, EVs, and more are changing automotive manufacturing. And how is this industry incorporating this innovative technology?
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New and emerging technologies are playing a major role in the future of automotive manufacturing. As tech like smart robotics and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) transforms automaking at large, information technology is becoming an increasingly important driver of growth in the industry.
At the same time, shifting consumer preferences and the growing importance of sustainability in the industry are also having a significant impact on manufacturing processes.
These are the major tech trends currently driving growth in the auto manufacturing industry and the long-term impact they’re likely to have.
1. Autonomous Vehicles
While fully autonomous vehicles are likely still a decade away, increasingly sophisticated driver assistance systems that use the same underlying technologies are becoming a major source of growth for the auto industry.
The global autonomous car market reached a value of more than $818 billion in 2019, representing a compound annual growth rate of 12.7% since 2015. Over the next few years, the market’s CAGR is likely to be even higher—possibly higher than 63% by 2030, according to one estimate.
Demand for AVs is being driven both by consumers and by corporate buyers—ridesharing companies like Uber and Lyft are investing heavily in self-driving vehicle technology as a way to reduce costs and provide more consistent service for riders.
As the technology behind self-driving systems becomes more practical, autonomous vehicles are likely to become more important to automotive manufacturers.
This could mean software development may become just as important as physical manufacturing workflows. At the very least, advanced AI-powered systems are likely to be commonplace, potentially driving growth and forcing manufacturers to invest more heavily in software engineering.
2. Electric Vehicles
Sustainability has become increasingly important across industries, leading to manufacturers prioritizing greener and more eco-friendly manufacturing methods. The increased demand for sustainable manufacturing practices also drives automakers to invest in sustainable products like hybrids and all-electric vehicles.
Demand for EVs remains stable despite the global slowdown in auto spending that came with the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, they’re on track to become a serious growth driver for the industry.
Major automakers are already moving to make EVs more central to their offerings, and some automotive companies—like Tesla and Rivian—offer lineups of exclusively all-electric vehicles.
Over the next few years, the manufacturing processes necessary for the fabrication of EVs will likely become more important and a more significant driver of growth in the automotive manufacturing industry.
3. Growing Importance of IoT Applications
Industry 4.0 has had a major impact on automotive manufacturing, with the Industrial Internet of Things (“Industrial IoT” or “IIoT”), having some of the most significant impacts on the manufacturing process.
IoT in automotive manufacturing typically means internet-connected factory sensors, sometimes attached directly to manufacturing equipment, that gather data and monitor conditions in a manufacturing facility.
These devices communicate with each other and the cloud. They enable interconnected facility management solutions that allow workers detailed remote monitoring of a site and, depending on the particular IIoT solution, remote access to site machinery.
For example, a significant number of variables can impact the overall outcome of an automaker’s mass finishing process. Finishing machines like centrifugal barrel finishing systems that smooth using high levels of force depend on precise operation. Factors like RPM, vibration, and machine temperature can all have a noticeable impact on the overall quality of a part’s finish.
With IoT, it’s possible to track these variables in real-time, allowing manufacturers to uncover connections between things like system RPM and the quality of a finished component.
Depending on the system’s sophistication, the automated system can even make slight adjustments to machine operation in real-time as certain operating variables drift beyond acceptable performance ranges.
4. The Move To the Edge
As IoT has become more important, so has latency. Manufacturers have adopted certain types of IoT technology—like co-bots and autonomous mobile robots—as a way to manage the automotive manufacturing industry’s rising labor costs and a growing skills gap.
These robots need to make complex decisions about navigation and movement in real-time, but the actual work behind these decisions happens off-site, in the cloud. This means that the slower or less reliable their connection to the internet, the more likely they are to underperform or behave less predictably.
Edge computing is one possible solution to this problem. Instead of relying on one centralized cloud server, the factory owner will work with an edge provider that manages server clusters close to the devices at the network’s edge. These “edge nodes” provide edge devices, like IIoT sensors, cobots, and AMRs, with much lower latency and a more reliable connection to the cloud.
The use of edge nodes can make AI-powered tech more practical for manufacturers, allowing a larger number of sites to take advantage of these technologies. As a result, more manufacturers may be able to adopt efficiency-boosting tools that also help the industry handle a growing labor gap.
5. Use of 3D Printing
Additive manufacturing techniques, like 3D printing, offer a valuable alternative to more conventional subtractive manufacturing approaches.
In the auto industry, 3D printing technology is effective for printing bespoke parts and on-demand part manufacturing for vehicles that are no longer in production. As part of standard manufacturing processes, 3D printing may also help drive down production costs and enable new types of components.
In some cases, 3D printing may also be more sustainable. Additive manufacturing typically produces less waste than subtractive manufacturing, meaning the use of 3D printing at scale may help cut down on material waste in the manufacturing process.
3D printing is also valuable for prototyping. With a 3D printer, it’s possible to quickly print a single prototype part, allowing manufacturers to trial more experimental designs. For example, during the design process of the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500, designers at Ford used a combination of AI-based aerodynamic analysis and real-world tests with 3D printed parts.
According to a press release from Ford, this approach enabled the company to design “the quickest-accelerating, most aerodynamically advanced” vehicle in the Mustang line.
In the near future, 3D printing is likely to become a common tool in prototyping and design testing before potentially becoming more widely integrated into manufacturing workflows.
How New Technology Is Driving Growth in the Auto Industry
Industry 4.0 technology and growing consumer demand for sustainably-made products is having a major impact on how the auto industry approaches manufacturing. The Internet of Things and AI-powered devices like cobots are making facilities both more efficient and easier to manage, while new technologies like electric cars and 3D printing are helping to make the industry more eco-friendly.
These technologies are already major drivers of growth for the industry and are likely to become even more critical over the next few years.
Opinions expressed by DZone contributors are their own.