By: John Miles, global business leader for Electric Vehicles, and Paolo Butti, industry manager for Automotive and Tire, Rockwell Automation
An accelerated launch requires a production strategy that leverages the right expertise, partners and Industry 4.0 concepts
If you’re bringing a new electric vehicle to market, time is not on your side
Dozens of companies in the U.S. – from start-ups to mature automakers – are already competing to deliver electric-vehicle offerings that they hope to edge into consumers’ garages. And in China, there are believed to be nearly 500 electric-vehicle companies.
You need to get your electric vehicles to market as
fast as possible if you want to secure your place in this crowded field. That
means you need to launch a flexible and agile production operation on an
Technology has a role to play, but it won’t help
you manage all the risks that can come with a rapid rollout.
For example, some young electric vehicle companies
have struggled to adopt or consistently enforce automotive-production best
practices. This can cause production delays that you don’t have time for. And
it can result in worker injuries and higher production costs.
To get electric vehicles to market as quickly as possible – at the highest quality and with minimal risk – you need more than technology. You need a comprehensive strategy.
Three Keys to
Your production strategy should be focused on
creating smart, data-driven and
flexible operations. Three things that can help you do this, while minimizing disruptions
and surprise costs along the way, include:
1. The Right
of the most valuable things you can bring to your production strategy is
experience – something that many young or start-up companies lack. That’s why a
knowledgeable industry partner is critical early in your planning process.
An industry partner can bring in-depth knowledge of
automotive-production best practices and process optimization to your rollout. This
can help you avoid production delays and other issues. They can also help you
build out your supply chain and your workforce. It could be something as simple
as creating hiring guides for your skilled positions, like control engineers.
Too often, young companies with little or no production experience just don’t
know what questions to ask candidates for these jobs.
leveraging Industry 4.0 concepts in your strategy, you can deploy seamless
connectivity and data sharing across your entire organization.
This can help you improve visibility into
production. It can help your workers make better and faster decisions. And it
can help you identify inefficiencies and drive continuous improvements in your
For example, we’ve used smart machines in our own
operations to create more efficient process workflows and more quickly identify
the cause of stops. We’ve also used advanced analytics to help companies
predict where problems may occur, so their maintenance teams can prevent stops
from occurring in the first place.
Even some automakers today are only using Industry
4.0 concepts in limited ways or across only some of their operations. Better
use of connected operations can help them not only accommodate but also
optimize electric vehicle production. For example, they could use augmented
reality to help guide operators through rework steps to speed up the process.
3. An Integrated
Architecture: An integrated automation architecture helps you achieve smart
production in some key ways.
First, it helps workers access the right
information at the right time to make important operational decisions. It
enables easy integration of equipment into your plant. And it allows you to
more swiftly react to market demands.
An integrated architecture uses control and information
systems that share a common network, control platform, data structures and
design environment. Each of these things comes with its own benefits. For
example, a common network can seamlessly connect your plant systems to each
other and to the rest of your enterprise. And common, standardized data
structures make it easy to collect data from anywhere and transform it into
information that drives better decisions.
With a data-driven integrated architecture in
place, you can use technologies that can make you more competitive in key, targeted
For example, a full manufacturing execution system
(MES) software package may not be right for your production operations at the
onset. That’s why fit-for-purpose MES applications exist.
These applications help address specific challenges
in production. It could be quality, machine performance, or genealogy and track
and trace. You can start at the machine or work-area level with one application,
then add other applications or scale up to a full MES as you grow production
and realize ROI.
Independent-cart technology is another difference
maker. It can help you get to market faster with higher line speeds and reduced
The technology can transport small components, or
even full car bodies, around your plant more quickly and precisely than
conventional mechanical solutions. This can help you speed up operations in a
body shop or in areas like battery cell and pack production, where high-speed
conveyance has proven to be a challenge.
Fast changeovers are also easy with systems that
use independent-cart technology. You can change their functions with the push
of a button. And because the systems have fewer moving parts, they can reduce
your maintenance needs to help maximize uptime.
Of course, in a connected production facility, you
shouldn’t only think about what
technology you can use. You should also think about how you use it.
Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is a good
example. It can reduce your burden of designing, deploying and maintaining a
network infrastructure. And it can change your network’s costs from a capital
expense to an operating expense.
IaaS combines pre-engineered network technologies,
on-site configuration and 24/7 remote monitoring into a single contract. And it
can help you optimize the performance, efficiency and uptime of your network
architecture. This can be especially valuable when your operations are starting
small or if you have time, talent or budgetary constraints.
A Race to the
The demand for electric cars is only going to climb
in the coming years, especially as battery prices fall. In fact, by 2025, one in four cars sold is expected to have an
electric engine compared to one in 20 today. As this happens, your competition
will only intensify.
The right expertise, partners and technologies can help put you and your vehicles at the front of a crowded field. But only if you have a well-thought-out strategy that addresses the unique challenges of electric-vehicle production. Learn more from Rockwell Automation: rok.auto/electricvehicle.