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News Article

Opportunities Aplenty Through Smart Manufacturing

By Cas Biekmann | Wed, 03/24/2021 - 15:54

You can watch the video of this panel here.

On Mar. 24, experienced panelists in the automotive manufacturing environment debated the latest trends in smart manufacturing in a panel moderated by Tarsicio Carreón , President of Chihuahua Automotive Cluster during Mexico Automotive Summit. Panelists agreed that technology had been a major contributor to keeping operations safe, sustainable and cost-effective during the pandemic, but also outlined areas of opportunity and future trends to watch out for.

The pandemic and environmental challenges in the US complicated manufacturing heavily in recent times, according to Carreón. Panelists agreed on the many solutions that are already available in the area of smart manufacturing to keep operations safe and cost-effective during the pandemic and beyond. For Matt Myrand, Group Advanced Manufacturing and Supply Chain Manager at Faurecia, adopting these solutions requires testing. “If it works, we move it into our toolbox,” he said. It is also important that solutions can be stacked on top of older solutions. A long-term vision is therefore of the essence, said Myrand. To know which solutions are needed, Faurecia collects as much data as possible. As sales dropped in 2020, higher efficiency became crucial. Technology, such as augmented-reality solutions by using HoloLens glasses, helped to enable remote assistance, for instance, while saving time, increasing safety and decreasing travel costs.

“Data is the new oil,” concurred Alejandro Preinfalk, President & CEO of Siemens Mexico. He mentioned that life in general was becoming more connected at an accelerated rate because of the pandemic. “But what do we do with the data?” he asked. For Siemens, digital twins of vehicles are the future. A digital model of a car, for instance, is useful for R&D, as well as for manufacturing. Afterward, the car can be connected to the cloud for data collection to schedule maintenance. “This creates value for all stakeholders,” he said.

Marcio Delgado , Vice President of Production and Global Manufacturing at ZF, agrees that digital twins and data are increasingly crucial for resource optimization. “Given the importance of optimizing business results, our main contribution is optimizing resources and costs toward product optimization,” he said. ZF needed to rely more on agile tools to achieve this optimization. Other than digital twins, apps helped the company to enhance visibility of manufacturing data. Programmable logic controllers (PLCs) are becoming a common feature, as well. Furthermore, by gathering data from the global environment, other areas could also adopt best practices. Platforms to store and manage data will become more important over time, as will strategies to deal with cybersecurity risks.

The only area more important than costs might be employee safety, especially during this new normality. “The new normal has impacted safety at manufacturing facilities. Automation is effective and keeps our employees safe in this environment,” said Manuel Sordo, Country Manager of Universal Robots. Manual labor is still as important as ever but social distancing needed to be introduced to global operations in the automotive sector. “Through collaborative robot automation and virtual reality, you can maintain productivity and the distance,” said Sordo.

Installing a robotic arm next to a person has shown to be a boon to productivity, according to Sordo. “The interaction between automation and manual labor has a huge impact,” he said, adding that maintaining an adequate pace is of the essence. Luckily, technological advancements are making the coding of this equipment easier and more accessible. Cost remains a key element in automation, nonetheless, argued Sordo. Investment in technology to bring down costs is key. Companies are working hard to adapt to these new conditions, as it is in their own best interest, he added, noting that more technologies are likely to be invented in the near future to further facilitate safe operations.

Regarding what further advancements would look like in the near future, Preinfalk points toward the importance of EVs. “Electrical vehicles are a trend that cannot be stopped,” he said. Innovation would therefore likely occur within vehicle production and e-charging infrastructure. 5G would represent a major opportunity for the automotive sector, stressed Preinfalk. Blockchain could also become useful to track key suppliers and components, he said. Other innovations to consider include fuel-cell vehicles, as well as PLC and automation through AI. Myrand hopes that 3D printing can evolve past its current niche condition. “As speed and quality increase, the technology is getting there,” he said.

Myrand highlighted the possibilities that 5G will bring to the table as new technologies are embraced “Autonomous vehicle production requires very fast networks, so we will see an increased use of 5G, blockchain and digitalized factories,” he added. “Clusters are becoming the table where all possibilities are being analyzed and shared in the automotive industry,” concluded Carreón.

Cas Biekmann Cas Biekmann Journalist and Industry Analyst