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Walking a Tightrope: How Automotive Manufacturers Find Balance in Digital Transformation

Production Management, Smart Manufacturing
March 30, 2023

Watching aerial artists walk a tightrope is both thrilling and nerve-wracking. Whether over a raging waterfall, between skyscrapers, or across cliffs, we marvel at the skill and balance of the person on the rope.

But what’s fun for entertainment is often unpleasant for businesses. With the automotive industry undergoing rapid digital transformation with new and exciting trends like connectivity, autonomous vehicles, and shared mobility, many automotive manufacturers feel like they, too, are on a tightrope, trying to make it across alive.

Old and New Counterweights

In this balancing act, one end of the pole is heavily weighted with complex functions to maintain traditional fossil fuel vehicles that will be around for many more decades. On the other end is a slate of new models, functionality, and a blistering increase in applications that make new automobiles as much a tech product as a mode of transportation.

As new technologies drive consumer demand for mobility services like guidance on traffic patterns and optimal routes, automakers and suppliers must still contend with producing fossil fuel models and supplying parts to them for decades.

The challenge is finding the right balance between managing traditional functions like inventory, supply chain, production scheduling, and workstation scheduling while embracing smart manufacturing technology to drive digital transformation for all products.

How Smart Manufacturing Gives Automotive Manufacturers Better Footing

Smart manufacturing uses data and advanced analytics to drive manufacturing process improvements. In the automotive industry, this means leveraging technology to streamline operations and achieve greater efficiency and cost savings.

Here are some ways smart manufacturing can help:


One of the key benefits of smart manufacturing is better inventory management. The average automobile requires tens of thousands of parts, and adding electric vehicles and their associated parts more than doubles the complexity. Smart manufacturing gives companies real-time visibility into their inventory to help reduce the risk of stockouts or overstocking. This capability is critical considering the impact the enormous volume of SKUs and their cost can have on profitability.

Supply Chain

Smart manufacturing lets companies leverage real-time data and analytics to manage their supply chain with end-to-end visibility. Using actionable insights generated by advanced analytics, automotive companies can identify areas of the underperforming supply chain and take action to improve them. These improvements include real-time routing, extending the digital thread to improve supplier relationships and performance, and automating procurement processes.

Production and Workstation Scheduling

Companies can optimize their production schedules to ensure maximum efficiency and throughput by using real-time data on machine performance, labor utilization, and other production monitoring KPIs. This can help reduce lead times, increase productivity, and improve customer satisfaction.

As automotive products become increasingly digital, there is a blend of skilled workers, robotic production, and autonomous or semi-autonomous machinery.

This blend means that production scheduling must be able to balance workstation scheduling to measure worker performance, machine uptime, and other factors.

At the same time, companies must ensure that the production rate and throughput are balanced for the digital and automated functions that don't need humans or that work alongside them. Traditional assembly line methods don't work well with this level and magnitude of complexity. With automotive smart manufacturing technology, companies can sync their digital and human components together to optimize the allocation of labor and machinery, maximize efficiency, and minimize downtime.

Making It to the Other Side

Automotive will always be among the most complex manufacturing industries. But it doesn't have to be as scary as crossing Niagara Falls on a wire with only a long pole for support. With the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform, automotive companies can embrace the digital transition taking place and deploy an advanced and real-time system that seamlessly optimizes processes and empowers workers across the enterprise.

By leveraging the right tools, your company can manage the shift and embrace digital transformation. Without them, it's like walking a tightrope with no support, and it's a long way down.

Learn more about smart manufacturing solutions tailor-made for the automotive industry by clicking here.

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.