Posted on 5/27/2015

​The Smart-er Factory

Debbie Holton

What is the future of automotive manufacturing? It will be heavily influenced by the consumer appetite for connectivity and convenience. Manufacturers have decided that vehicles are truly mobile devices – the connecting point for all our tablets, phones and more. Cars that drive themselves are on the horizon, but the here and now includes smartphone integration, Wi-Fi, hands-free operation, live streaming and more. Essentially, vehicles are becoming networks on wheels.

Right now, there are about 50 million lines of code and dozens of sensors in an automobile. This is destined to rise as vehicles become increasingly more connected and electronic. That creates significant challenges and opportunities for manufacturers as they try to meet customer demand for more capabilities, integration and convenience. The network on wheels automobile is the point where high-tech electronic manufacturing and traditional heavy manufacturing intersect.

The Big Data Challenge – On the Road and In the Factory
As consumers demand more high-tech vehicles, there is a prime opportunity for manufacturers to utilize the data gathered from drivers to improve engineering and manufacturing processes. With the addition of Wi-Fi and other connectivity, their data can be gathered in real-time to improve vehicle performance, drivability and safety.
If this seems a little big brother to some, there are significant advantages that outweigh those concerns.  The financial and human cost of product failures and the subsequent recalls are significant, as we have recently seen with airbags and ignition switches. The opportunity for manufacturers to utilize a product lifecycle management mindset, allows them to put into practice a strong feedback loop on vehicle quality and performance – using real-time vehicle data.  

What if manufacturers didn’t have to wait for part wear or quality glitches to cause failure and recalls, but instead, could utilize vehicle sensors to identify stress on parts and systems? Ideally, they could work within the same model year to implement changes and fix problems before the same issues recur. Over time, they would build intelligent systems that could predict potential failures and, in turn, design better products from the concept and design phase. 

This becomes the big data challenge on wheels. Some data will be pushed to a central collection point (like maintenance/recall data), some of it will be incoming (traffic data), and some of it will have to be processed within the auto (driverless cars). This adds to the complexity of a product manufactured to function in a hostile environment, for many years, with little tolerance for failure. 

Digital manufacturing is simply turning things into data and data into things. Starting inside the factory, using readily available manufacturing data to improve quality and processes has significantly increased.  

About the Author

Debbie Holton | SME

Debbie Holton joined SME in 1990 and currently serves as the director of events and industry strategy for SME. In her role she leads the team responsible for 20 manufacturing tradeshows and conferences, including industry leaders like FABTECH, RAPID and EASTEC. SME events connect manufacturers with leading technologies and applications and advance business relationships. Holton collaborates with major manufacturers, suppliers and industry organizations to identify key manufacturing challenges and convene the vast SME network of members and technical experts to develop potential solutions. From 2012 to 2013, Holton served as acting deputy director of technology transition for the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (now America Makes). Holton is on the executive committee for America Makes, as well as a member of the National Defense Industries Association and SAE.


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