Connectivity and automation have changed our world in the last decade. It’s not just humans who talk to machines and vice-versa, machines are talking to machines as well. Already, 20 billion devices are connected via the Internet of Things, thereof 8 billion in production. In fact, according to the statistics portal Statista, for 2020 the installed base of Internet of Things devices is forecast to grow to almost 31 billion worldwide and over 75 billion by 2025—this is many times more than the current human population.
What does this mean for the automotive industry? India’s automotive sector is one of the largest and fastest growing in the world. It accounts for 7.1% of the country’s GDP, making it one of our most important sectors. Up to what extent will robotics, artificial intelligence and connectivity penetrate production and business processes? Some sources expect disruptive improvements in terms of quality, productivity and customer orientation, others are concerned with job losses, high costs for investments and data security.
Automation offers opportunities that can help the auto industry react faster to market requirements, reduce manufacturing downtimes, and improve the efficiency of supply chains and increase productivity. The length of a project remains a prime concern to decide on automating the manufacturing process. Hence, quick return-on-investment projects combined with low-cost automation and cost innovation in India will help improve competitiveness through productivity improvement. One example in Bosch in India is feeding systems for grinding machines.
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With the connected industry revolution, jobs will change. In an Industry 2.0 or less environment, the operator is the commander. He operates the machines and, based on his skills, creates value using the machine tool. In automated production (Industry 3.0), he is the captain, programming the machines and maintaining the machine availability. Unlike this, in Industry 4.0, he will be the conductor, interacting with machines and robots, and continuously optimising their performance. This requires new skills, even software skills, for shop floor workers and a deep understanding of the processes (Source: Speech by Prof Thomas Bauernhansl, Fraunhofer IPA, in Stuttgart, Bosch I4.0 world conference). Clearly, connected industry requires flexible working models and more flexible workmanship.
Automotive manufacturing used to be driven by volume-based mass production, which has given way to customisation on the shop floor. Connected manufacturing offers the auto sector unique opportunities that would allow diverse stakeholders to realise production-related gains by facilitating new business models and innovative products with greater integration of functions (embedded systems)—which result in increased value addition.
Looking further into the future, value streams will become more agile. Through adaptive manufacturing—extensive utilisation of 3D-printing—value streams will change to more software-based. In an Industry 4.0 world, one can imagine fewer spare parts stocked, due to 3D-printing, leading to lesser inventory and better free cash flow. The same can be imagined for products and components.
Although automation is setting standards for the industry and has a number of advantages, there are some negative aspects, too. For example, defects resulting from tool wear-out require poka-yokes—a Japanese term for ‘mistake-proofing’—in place to avoid occurrences at a mass production level. Increased levels of automation allow for reduced scope of flexibility and customisation.
Automation, combined with connectivity, can lead to more transparency, real-time data analysis and continuous improvement in quality and environmental performances. This can help companies deliver top-quality products using clean technology. Organisations need to strike the right balance between the levels of automation and the degree of human interface to limit excessive use of resources.
The author is joint managing director, Bosch Ltd.
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