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Charging Ahead: Enabling Electric Vehicle Manufacturing with Smart Technology

Smart Manufacturing, Production Management
May 10, 2022

Many advances in technology and changing consumer tastes have disrupted the automobile industry. From innovations like front-wheel drive and the SUV to the beginning of smart technology for navigation, diagnostics, and entertainment, production lines were forced to adjust many times in history.

But nothing compares to the shift currently underway as auto producers move toward large-scale electric vehicle manufacturing. As new and radical as the above changes were, electric vehicle production will change what manufacturers produce and how automobiles are made, introducing an explosion of possibilities and challenges.

Approaching a Tipping Point

As electric vehicle production ramps up, it’s clearly more than a passing trend. Sales of electric powertrains increased in 2021, and that curve is expected to steepen.

As this growth continues, automakers will reach a tipping point. They’ll have a stretch of years or even decades where internal combustion and electric vehicle production run concurrently.

There are already over 30,000 parts in an average car and there are hundreds of millions of registered vehicles on the road. Now, manufacturers seek to hold entirely new classes and parts, most of which are not transferable from one technology to another.

As makers move ahead, one line for electric vehicles will introduce an entirely new supply chain as it ramps up with high growth. The other will be ramping downward as internal combustion cars trail off. And just as electric vehicle manufacturing will require different parts and processes, there will still be the need to hold inventory to service and maintain gasoline engines throughout their lifespan.

Manufacturer Concerns

Significant disruptions and technological shifts have fueled the death of entire industries before – has anyone tried to buy a vacuum tube for a television lately? But in this case, the shift for vendors and suppliers is unprecedented.

Many manufacturers are struggling to absorb the new reality, and many are concerned. Some long-time suppliers have had decades-long relationships with manufacturers but worry that they may not have a place in the new ecosystem or the resources to meet the demand for EV parts. In the age of vendor-managed inventory and strict Tier 1 and Tier 2 requirements, all worry about inventory levels and maintaining standards to allow the transition of new technology to continue.

New Production Means a New Business Model

The rise of electric vehicle manufacturing may see a shift in business models for many organizations. Smart manufacturing technology has been a game-changer in other industries and looks poised to have the same effect here.

The advent of 3D technology and 3D printing makes R&D and time to market quicker and more cost-effective. Digital twin technology and rapid customization - made possible by industrial IoT technology- make customization more efficient and allow automakers to offer premium looks, services, and options.

In many cases, the move will mirror other digital technologies where the automobile may be looked at as a “platform” opportunity with the ability to add as many services and options as a customer wants. As transportation modes and the rise of smart cities comes to bear on automobiles, many automakers may wind up as a platform company resembling a tech giant more than a traditional supplier of vehicles.

Empowering Manufacturers to Meet Challenges

With two giant product lines operating during a time of rapid innovation and demand, there’s no way traditional manufacturing and planning models can manage the requirements of both with conventional production strategies. The parts alone are simply too numerous, not to mention the planning and requirements that new processes demand.

To keep up, automakers are discovering they can’t successfully rely on traditional production strategies. With electric vehicle production becoming a heavily digital endeavor, smart manufacturing platforms are here to help. Plex enables manufacturers to streamline production processes and manage the flow of assets to keep both systems afloat and successfully grow one while tapering the other.

Advanced analytics manages real-time data from smart manufacturing devices to provide complete end-to-end visibility for supply, production, quality, inventory, and more. No matter the need, Plex MES, ERP, QMS, SCP, Asset Performance Management, Automation, and Production Monitoring solutions can seamlessly integrate into the processes of an auto manufacturer or supplier to offer top-to-bottom production control and visibility.

The change to electric vehicles will be bumpy, but your manufacturing environment doesn’t have to be. As you shift your production to a focus on EVs while continuing to support the drawdown of traditional gasoline engines, rely on modern technology that can help you find a balance without overleveraging your assets and workforce.

For more insights on smart technology adoption in the industry, download the Automotive Edition of the 7th Annual State of Smart Manufacturing Report now.

About the Author

Plex Team

Plex Systems, Inc., a Rockwell Automation company, is the leader in cloud-delivered smart manufacturing solutions, empowering the world’s manufacturers to make awesome products. Our platform gives manufacturers the ability to connect, automate, track and analyze every aspect of their business to drive transformation. The Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform includes solutions for manufacturing execution (MES), ERP, quality, supply chain planning and management, Industrial IoT and analytics to connect people, systems, machines, and supply chains, enabling them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.