22 September, 2019

Digital transformation and the automotive sector

17 May, 2018

British Fluid Power Association member companies Festo and SMC Pneumatics consider the growing trend towards automation and digitalisation within the automotive industry, and the enduring importance of more traditional technologies such as pneumatics within the fast-developing digital transformation landscape.

Digital transformation-related concepts such as Industry 4.0, Smart Factory and the Industrial Internet of Things are increasingly becoming key industry focuses in the drive to leverage greater business and operational efficiencies such as time saving, greater accuracy and less machinery downtime and better data analytics; and one of the sectors where this type of technology is increasingly playing a particularly important role is that of automotive.

Seamless data sharing

Andy Parker-Bates (pictured), product marketing manager – pneumatics in factory automation, Festo, observes there has been a general trend towards digitalisation within the automotive industry for a number of years now. He adds that the industry is also moving more towards integrated pneumatic platforms with fieldbus-enabled valve terminals, IO Link-enabled sensors and field level devices becoming more available. “This trend towards linking an increasing number of products onto various communications platforms allows more seamless data sharing and enables companies to integrate different components and technologies into the same network, providing greater transparency between products and technologies within a machine or production line,” he explains. “Data is now able to be passed between different components in ways that it never was before. This provides companies with faster operation, as well as higher levels of control and functionality. The result is faster speed, and greater accuracy and precision.”

Maintenance improvements

Parker-Bates points out that digitalisation has also resulted in major improvements in terms of maintenance. “Nowadays, maintenance engineers don't necessarily need to physically check components on the production line to identify a problem,” he says. “Instead, for much of the time they can simply log in to the system to determine the status of a component and whether there are issues that need resolving.”

Batch size of one

According to Parker-Bates, many of the automotive manufacturers that Festo works with are getting ever closer to the ‘Holy Grail’ of a batch size of one within the context of Industry 4.0. He elaborates: “If you look at all the options in terms of trim, engine variants, colours etc., the automotive industry is now very close to a batch size of one most of the time because statistically it is probably quite unlikely that these companies would run two cars that are identical down the line one after the other – purely because of the sheer variety of options and choice. So, for automotive companies, the concept of Industry 4.0 is often largely about making it easier and quicker to change between one model and another – or even to factor-in slight variations when producing a particular model.”

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