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How manufacturers can digitalize processes for autonomous-vehicle production

Oct. 25, 2022
Get the AV show on the road

While autonomous vehicles are looking less like a far-off fantasy and more like a reality, there is still a long way to go before they hit the road. Manufacturers can optimize every stage of the production process to get the wheels turning on the autonomous-vehicle market.

Autonomous vehicles (AVs) bring new business potential for discrete manufacturers. The automotive-manufacturing industry as a whole has faced many challenges with supply-chain disruption, especially from the global chip shortage. Given the complex nature of autonomous-vehicle manufacture and risks associated with such advanced manufacturing, companies need to rethink traditional automotive-manufacturing processes and supercharge AV manufacturing with data-driven processes if autonomous vehicles are going to take off at scale.

The potential of the AV market can be maximized at each stage of the production process, from design through to manufacturing and beyond, with a little help from supporting systems.

Also read: Computer-aided-design software draws on the concept of innovation

Automated design processes

As the complexity of automotive software increases, the more complicated the design process becomes as increasingly advanced systems need to be seamlessly integrated into auto bodies while still ensuring the main function of the vehicle—its drivability—remains optimal. Design software and techniques can centralize and streamline design processes to provide enhanced visibility and control to simplify the design process.

A centralized design hub allows for flawless design: Product-data-management (PDM) software is crucial for clear, effective and flawless design. Within a PDM system all data and information relating to the product is stored in one place, integrating other computer-aided-design (CAD) programs with bill-of-materials (BOM) software and data management with workflow management. The information-sharing capability of PDM creates streamlined design processes by removing bottlenecks and data siloes. This in turn reduces design cycles and lead times.

Modularization—standardizing and simplifying the design process: Modularization is another component of the design phase for AV manufacturing. This design concept, where products are broken down into a series of standardized modules that can be assembled and dissembled, simplifies the manufacturing process and reduces lead times. This is important in AVs, which contain many interconnected layers of hard and soft technology that complicate assembly.

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Not only does modularization enhance speed to manufacture by standardizing design and simplifying the assembly process, but it also aids sustainability by prolonging the overall lifespan of the vehicle through ease of repair and allows parts to be reused and remanufactured in a waste-free circular model.

Monitor execution and assembly

Measuring overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) is best practice for all manufacturing. But automated systems can provide insight to enhance overall efficiency with the use of Industrial-Internet-of-Things (IIoT) sensors and predictive maintenance (PdM).

Reduced equipment downtime: IIoT sensors are connected to manufacturing equipment to monitor the condition and performance by relaying real-time data into a central system. This facilitates the practice of PdM whereby manufacturers foresee where repairs and servicing are needed before a breakdown happens, so replacement parts can be ordered and maintenance appointments can be arranged ahead of time. This preemptive action reduces the overall downtime of manufacturing equipment, improving OEE and reducing waste.

Also read: Machine learning in the automotive industry

Total throughput control

During the manufacturing phase, management of materials and resources is essential for manufacturing projects to be delivered on time and on budget. BOM-management software allows businesses to accurately price and order materials required for manufacturing. Not only does accurate BOM lead to a reduction in lead times and delays, but it also fosters greater sustainability as efficient material procurement creates less waste. This is essential for a closed-loop supply chain (CLSC).

Different manufacturing methods and materials can be used in the production of AVs compared to standard automobiles. Driverless vehicles can be manufactured without the typical safety features of regular vehicles—air bags and side-view mirrors, for example—and can be made from lightweight materials instead of heavier materials that would be required for driver safety. Removing safety features can make AVs up to 75% lighter than conventional automobiles, according to estimates from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Systems management beyond the factory doors

Autonomous vehicles should be manufactured with ongoing “servitization” in mind. Much like PdM for manufacturing equipment, manufacturers that provide aftermarket services can use IoT sensors to monitor for repairs and retrofits of an AV asset, continuing the high level of control beyond the production process. In a servitization model, the AV manufacturer maintains ownership of the AV asset and controls of the entire asset lifecycle, providing a greater incentive to attain higher standards of manufacturing.

Also read: Software to enable design detail

Future-focus data for continuous development: Here a product-lifecycle-management (PLM) software will be crucial to maintain optimal control and operability during the entire lifecycle of the vehicle after it has left the factory floor. Different data sets from IoT real-time feeds can be collated within the PLM system to provide an extensive overview of AV function throughout its lifetime. This can be used to inform future design processes with feedback on AV performance to promote continuous development and progress.

Remanufacturing: End-of-life management is also needed to ensure that the quality and sustainability of production processes is maintained. When AVs come to the end of their lifecycles, AV manufacturers, through modularization, can retrieve parts or components to reuse or remanufacture into new products. This ensures that manufacturers get the most out of the resources and funds they invest into an AV asset and can develop CLSCs to improve the sustainability of their manufacturing processes.

Advance the manufacturing process: As the capabilities of automotives continue to improve, so too should the processes behind discrete manufacturing become more integrated with automated systems. Manufacturers need to optimize their systems to ensure operations remain profitable, especially in projects where the risk is high.

About the Author

Andrew Burton, IFS

Andrew Burton is industry director for manufacturing at IFS.