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Process Automation in the Automotive Industry: There's a Lot More to Do

August 29, 2023

When thinking of automotive production, most people imagine fast and efficient production lines with clean floors, automated robotics, and a production process that produces new, shiny vehicles. With those images, many may assume process automation is at its peak.

Yet, while the automotive industry is a leader in adopting technologies and methodologies to improve its internal processes, the reality is more complex. A peek under the hood via data from The State of Smart Manufacturing Report: Automotive Edition shows a complicated infrastructure system, overlapping supply chains, and other areas where improvement still needs to be made.

Even More Technology

Technology has always been a hallmark of automotive production. Today, internal combustion vehicles are as much computers as cars, and that trend will increase as EV adoption accelerates.

To address this shift, automotive execs are investing heavily in technology and smart manufacturing. This year’s State of Smart Manufacturing Report shows that 59% of manufacturers are using technology to mitigate risks within their operations.

These companies have come a long way from looking at more engine power to investing up to 23% of their budget in operations. New technology helps automate business processes, reinforce process consistency, and mitigate disruption in addition to adding additional plant floor automation.

It's All About Electric - But Still About Engines

A massive shift is underway to switch from internal combustion to electric vehicles. But the process will take decades to complete. This reality means additional facility space, dual and parallel production lines, and an explosion of spare parts and new suppliers to support both types of vehicles.

As a result, additional, smart technology-driven process automation for the automotive industry may be more than just an option. It may be a requirement to manage the transition effectively and remain efficient. As companies struggle to address these changes, there are bright spots to take comfort in. 

ROI in technology to address such disruptions shows that 31% of those returns come from process automation. Another 22% comes from smart technologies like AI and machine learning, critical for developing insights that optimize production processes and unlock predictive and prescriptive insights on handling such complex supply chains.

Sustainability as a Competitive Differentiator

In addition to mass migration to EVs, automotive leaders face regular and ever-stricter mandates for sustainability and ESG. Industry leaders, however, have rallied to these changes to find their value as a competitive differentiator.

Forty-nine percent of respondents in the report see sustainability as a way to capture more market share while 41% feel they are and will continue to see improvement in efficiencies. Industry leaders also believe the movement will enhance their brand reputation within the community further and add to the bottom line.

Smart Manufacturing and the Future of Automotive

Nothing is 100%, but one finding is close: a staggering 97% of automotive manufacturers believe smart manufacturing is very important to the future success of their business. From advanced analytics to automated CMMS systems and highly accurate supply chain planning (SCP), that level of executive buy-in is hard to ignore.

However, that buy-in may be needed, as there are still barriers to adopting smart manufacturing. Key among these barriers is the need for more skilled workers to implement it. That lack of skills (48%) and continuing resistance to technology adoption (46%) are only a few of the reported barriers. 

Others include:

  • Cost
  • The difficulty of upgrading legacy systems
  • Misaligned objectives between business and manufacturing
  • Lack of clear value definition for ROI

Making Progress with Process Automation

While there’s still more work to do, there are systems and technology solutions available right now to drive the automotive industry to even higher levels of efficiency and improved process automation. To learn more about what automotive leaders have to say about the trends, roadblocks, goals, and other factors shaping their journey, read The State of Smart Manufacturing Report: Automotive Edition.

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.