22 April, 2019

Digital transformation and the automotive sector

17 May, 2018

Combined technologies

Cheyne makes the point that pneumatic equipment has been used within the automotive sector for many years because it offers major advantages in terms of assisting people with their day-to-day tasks. He is now also seeing a stronger move towards things such as electronic actuators, which, from an automation perspective, offer high levels of precision and which can be programmed for altered positioning,” he says. However, Cheyne points out that there remain certain distinct advantages with regard to pneumatic cylinders. “For example, the actual amount of force that can be gained from a pneumatic cylinder has always been considerably greater than an electronic actuator. Pneumatic cylinders are also currently more cost-effective in terms of purchase price. And if companies simply need a straightforward A to B movement they are probably unlikely to find something as effective as pneumatics. So, with the recognised benefits of both pneumatic and electronic actuators, it is not surprising that we are increasingly seeing the use of a combination of the two technologies within automotive plants.”


Where are automotive manufacturers in that overall journey? Cheyne has observed that an increasing number of automotive companies are becoming more aware of the benefits of digital transformation. “The automotive sector is often seen as a rather traditional type of business with regard to the products that are used as part of the manufacturing process,” he says. “Some companies often standardise on certain types of products, even when there is a potential to replace with more miniaturised pneumatic equipment. They often decide to stay with more standardised products because they believe it provides them with a desired flexibility, which may not always be the case.”

Greater understanding

Nevertheless, Cheyne thinks an increasing number of automotive companies are becoming more aware of the benefits of digitalisation. “Certainly, some are now deploying Smart Manufacturing technologies to enable them to better predict the behaviour of their machinery,” he says. “With greater understanding of available communication technologies and their capabilities, companies are in a much better position to know the ideal time to replace parts on a machine and determine what any occurring issues are likely to be based on analytical data. This enables companies to keep machinery running at its optimum level, as well as to avoid greater risk of machine failure and subsequent expensive downtime. So, there is now more of an understanding that the benefits of digital technology can far outweigh more traditional approaches.”

Growing link between the physical and cyber world

Although Industry 4.0 is becoming increasingly embraced by automotive companies, Parker-Bates has witnessed that different companies are moving at different speed, meaning there isn’t really a fully harmonised vision of what the ideal end picture would look like. “Nevertheless, the link between the physical world and the cyber world is growing ever stronger; with many business and operational benefits to be had in the process,” he says.

Furthering the cause

Parker-Bates explains that Festo has strong links with relevant automation- and robotics-related trade associations, including the British Fluid Power Association (BFPA), and is keen to continue working alongside these associations in order to further the cause of automation within sectors such as automotive. Some of this work involves liaising with government statutory bodies in order to ensure high standards are maintained and further developed into the future.

Similarly, Cheyne comments that associations such as the BFPA are invaluable in continuing to champion not just the core fluid power solutions that are so important within sectors such as automotive, but also the growing relationship this more traditional technology now has with complementary systems within the automation arena. He adds that SMC, too, is keen to get across the message that there is now a host of automation technology available, which can help automotive companies to realise a host of tangible benefits that are achievable by taking on board digital transformation concepts such as Smart Manufacturing from a data management and connectivity perspective.

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