As the world makes a gradual recovery from the pandemic, the automotive industry has entered an unprecedented period of change. Technological advances such as artificial intelligence (AI), alongside changing consumer behaviours, including an increased demand for newer car models, have altered the industry.
When faced with ongoing disruption in supply chains due to regional COVID lockdowns and the global chip shortage, car manufacturers undoubtedly feel the economic strain of a rapidly changing world. The need for automakers to embrace Industry 4.0 and digitalisation is crucial in maximising profitability and efficiency during this time, whilst supporting net-zero ambitions. By harnessing the power of combined and connected digital engineering technologies, such as AI and factory simulation, automakers can increase the speed of design and manufacturing; reshaping how they manage their operations, engage with customers, and deliver products.
The key to ramping up production capacity whilst reducing costs in factories lies in digital engineering. A poorly designed factory or production line can limit production and slow down processes, whereas an efficient layout can positively impact overall profitability by facilitating an increased flow of work and material whilst minimising carbon footprint. However, finding the optimal layout can be dramatically complex. Especially when a multitude of factors need to be considered, such as manufacturing time, cost, waste and energy consumption as well as the workflow between machines or stations.
A mathematical solution offers the best way of establishing a benchmark for the factory layout or production line and assessing whether it is capable of supporting growth in demand. Digital and model-based engineering enables businesses to evaluate alternatives through the creation of a virtual environment that can interact with design solutions.
By harnessing the power of combined and connected digital engineering technologies, such as AI and factory simulation, automakers can increase the speed of design and manufacturing; reshaping how they manage their operations, engage with customers, and deliver products
Technological developments in computational power, digital simulation and visualisation technologies have advanced dramatically in recent years and can help to demystify this process. Frameworks can be devised to generate design solutions, optimising layouts and workflows between a series of rooms or machines on the production line.
When built, these simulations require minimal input. With a requirements-driven approach to the design, the goals and constraints of the facility layout—such as a more efficient workflow combined with limited space—can be fed in to help determine the optimal configuration. Then, the user simply provides a list of all of the objects needed for car production, i.e., machinery, workspaces, and equipment, with key information on each, such as size and space required to operate.
The most effective frameworks use a two-stage algorithm process to address each aspect, before processing the suggested automotive factory flow through a simulator—potentially thousands of times—until it discovers the best result possible. With the remodelling of a factory floor a significant undertaking, this means the manufacturer can explore a virtual replica of the proposed environment to discover the benefits or issues before any decisions are made and make final tweaks to ensure a smooth flow along the operating line, from raw material to finished product.
Digital technology could also play a key role in helping governments reach net zero by 2050. With car manufacturing a typically carbon intensive process—46% of a medium-sized car’s carbon footprint is generated in the production line—Al and machine learning have a key role to play in helping the industry cut emissions by enabling smart factories with faster and more efficient production lines and increased energy efficiency.
Futureproofing for future growth
Investment in a new factory or production line, or the redevelopment of an existing one, is one of the largest costs an automotive company will incur, and it is critical that manufacturers understand whether an existing production line or factory footprint can cope with a rapidly growing demand to determine how efficiently they can get a product to market. In other words, what the industry really needs to focus on is getting it right the first time around. And with new processes such as composite manufacturing—the combination of two distinct materials, which together improve product performance and lower production costs—players can turn to novel solutions using digital modelling and simulation.
When the time came for Jaguar Land Rover to review its production capability, the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS) supported the company using its Layout and Factory Simulation (LOAFS) frameworks to assess the layout design for a zone of the next generation manufacturing line. This resulted in a more compact production line requiring 45% less space—leaving plenty of room for future expansion to meet increasing demand.
The digital engineering future
Today’s manufacturers are facing a host of new challenges, and there is a need to introduce more competent and adaptive technologies to tackle these issues.
Beyond optimising factory layouts, digital simulation also has the potential to mitigate potential issues that could arise during manufacturing, encouraging a more efficient, eco-friendly approach throughout the production line. It enables manufacturers to generate what-if scenarios and run simulations to authenticate changes before making expensive investments. This means manufacturers can explore the use of more efficient materials or supply chain processes and help balance the competing environmental, economic and societal factors that feed into an efficient, successful production line.
As the sector embraced automation and industry 4.0, so too must it look ahead to new, emerging technologies and solutions. Simulation will become an essential part of automotive manufacturers’ efforts to reduce new-product development times and costs while optimising production and distribution, and achieving net zero.
Digital engineering is becoming viewed as a more efficient way to enhance products and production, particularly post-COVID when industries are faced with economic stress. Unlocking this digital transformation is key in making a strong and sustainable comeback.
About the author: Ian Risk is Chief Technology Officer at the Centre for Modelling & Simulation (CFMS)