What is smart manufacturing’s role in electric vehicle production?

Dominique Scheider explores the importance of smart manufacturing to scale up battery production through digital thread data-driven facilities

The automotive industry has held an enormous influence over general manufacturing methods for over a century, shaping modern life through advances in production line and supply chain processes. The industry coined the terms Fordism, Toyotism and Lean Manufacturing amongst others, all focused on the economic and technological progress of production.

Since 1890 there has been constant improvements in processes, quality and assembly techniques with the  aim of achieving a top performing car in terms of design, speed, and fuel efficiency, tested and certified mainly for road-use. Just when something new appears, engineers will often find a way to turn it into design or production, and innovation continues. For instance, advances in machine intelligence and electrification have accelerated smart manufacturing, enabling OEMs to optimise every stage of production, from design to assembly line.

This applies to all industries, but the emerging electric vehicle production is supported by massive capex plans from top OEMs, creating in parallel a new battery ecosystem. This is a perfect opportunity to create automotive sites that adopt the best of the digital thread: the erected plants are becoming the physical twin after months of design, simulations and validations in a virtual environment, not reversed.

Smart manufacturing
Advances in machine intelligence and electrification have accelerated smart manufacturing

So, what is smart manufacturing’s role in electric vehicle production? It is simply a continuity in over 130 years of car manufacturing, always innovating and adapting in an increasingly digital world. Now, with more digital tools available the attention has been drawn to electric vehicles; a new vehicle very different from what is typically seen on the street. This is a way for mature automotive manufacturers to excel and compete with the newcomers, with on time to market, frugal and agile manufacturing, and most importantly to customers—vehicle customisation.

On that race, Tesla is accelerating the world’s transition to electric vehicles, and reinventing a profitable business model aside from its innovative car production and placing data as the corner edge of profitable growth for mobility: data generated by the cars on the roads, plants, and the supply chains around the world. One tiny processor is missing, and the system will crash if not anticipated, and that means immediate plants shut down.

For customers, it is only a matter of time before all cars on the market are viewed as a digital asset to consume services and entertainment, not only transportation. We will then see public transport compete whether it be independent light e-mobility on wheels or eVTOL in the air. Microplants for e-mobility e-bikes, or e-bubbles—the future of personal mobility inside autonomous micro cars—will be located at the street corner or underground for assembly or repair.

It is the same for manufacturing plants. An IIOT platform and “off the shelf apps” come now as a “must have” with fast roll-out plans. Thus, we are seeing more crossovers in industry as technology develops and continues to play a vital role in everyday life. Both high-tech companies and car makers need to find ways to survive and remain profitable, so it is only natural to see these collaborate.

Microplants for e-mobility e-bikes, or e-bubbles—the future of personal mobility inside autonomous micro cars—will be located at the street corner or underground for assembly or repair

As another consequence, assembly plants of more and more automotive components are becoming ISO 5+ standards cleanrooms inspired by electronic assembly of PC or LCD screens. 3D printing will also be a part of the solution for limited inventory and reactivity. In addition, we will likely see the convergence of IT and smart mobility (CASE) impacting smart supply chains, inviting individuals to travel less and wait for “things” to come to them. This has accelerated during the pandemic with next day delivery services.

The future of mobility will change with cities becoming larger and smarter. Now that the industry has government support as part of the European Green Deal and the Fit for 55 ambitions, we can hope for a future with cleaner and more sustainable forms of transport from electric vehicle to decarbonise mass transportation that will include more high-speed trains and hydrogen powered commercial vehicles.


The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Dominique Scheider is Industry Strategy & Marketing Manager, Transportation EMEA, at Rockwell Automation

The Automotive World Comment column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute a Comment article, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

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