The cloud puts electric vehicle manufacturing in the fast lane

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John Miles explores how cloud technology is enabling a new wave of innovation in the automotive industry

The automotive industry is at a turning point. Bloomberg estimates that by 2040, 54% of new vehicle sales will be electric and that by 2030, 100% of passenger vehicles in China and India will be electric. To keep up with this growth and changing automotive technologies, automakers need connected, information-driven operations to produce vehicles as quickly as possible, with the lowest possible cost and risk.

A window of opportunity

As electric vehicles continue to rapidly transform automotive production, established automakers and start-ups must launch new factories or transform existing operations faster and smarter than ever. Automakers need to have the right EV strategy, centered on a transition to data-driven manufacturing in a highly flexible and connected environment, to stay competitive. As many manufacturers struggle with disparate and disconnected information systems operating across the enterprise and within their facilities, this approach will not be able to keep up with the accelerated demand predicted for the electric vehicle market. Electric vehicle organizations must embrace cloud connectivity to achieve their long-term production and innovation goals.

Implementing cloud solutions can open the door to new opportunities for the modern enterprise, including greater visibility, lower costs, and increased productivity. Specifically, cloud-based systems allow manufacturers to collect accurate, real-time material and traceability data to ensure production and delivery always run smoothly. The cloud can also streamline operations to reduce the time it takes to manufacture each product, reduce downtime, and minimize waste. Finally, the cloud enables manufacturers to shorten cycle times and improve efficiency by eliminating manual process errors through paperless operator control.

As many manufacturers struggle with disparate and disconnected information systems operating across the enterprise and within their facilities, this approach will not be able to keep up with the accelerated demand predicted for the electric vehicle market.

The connected electric vehicle factory

The production of hybrid and all-electric vehicles requires flexible and scalable operations. But what do flexible and scalable operations look like? They use analytics to help automakers stay efficient, even as powertrain technologies evolve. They use a manufacturing execution system (MES) to manage complexity, especially when production increases or changes. And they use digital twin technology to simulate production changes before implementation, which helps validate decisions and reduce risk associated with changes.

While the cloud in manufacturing is not intended to completely replace on-premises software, hardware, and physical access, it offers new capabilities that extend existing systems to create efficiencies, improve collaboration and much more. The cloud puts EV manufacturers “on the fast track” by providing increased flexibility and efficiency to existing infrastructure and systems. And in an industry where every manufacturer is vying to be first, these time reductions make the difference.

Sellable Analysis

Cloud transformation is especially beneficial for data collection and analysis, as the automotive industry is no stranger to big data. Over the years, automakers have used intelligent cloud-based services and analytics platforms to aggregate, analyze, and transform big data into powerful business intelligence. But despite the progress, many manufacturers are struggling to provide their operators with insights that can improve real-time performance in the plant. This is due to gaps in closing the control system loops between Big Data and the plant, typically caused by excessive network traffic and analytical delays.

Scalable, cloud-powered analytics offer a faster way to optimize insights at the edge by closing the loop between big data and the plant faster. It integrates analytics and machine learning (ML) capabilities closer to the source of information and plant-level decision makers. Using dynamic mathematical models, the system learns to recognize the impact of one variable on another and automatically adjusts subsequent actions for optimal results. At the same time, the system can provide critical analytics to operators, such as SPC charts, which enable continuous quality monitoring and proactive adjustments. This enables maintenance teams to make better decisions at the “source” of their data, minimizing downtime and accelerating proactive decision making.

Simulation and digital twins will play a key role in future development and production

Double digital

The growth of real-time data will also be driving the emerging use of digital twin software. A digital twin is a virtual representation of a physical object. Digital twins in a cloud-based environment make it easy for experts located anywhere to add valuable information about factory processes. At the lowest level, digital twins can be a single machine, but they can also scale to represent a real-time digital counterpart of an entire electric vehicle production facility and the products being manufactured. This tool can simulate new configurations and predict the impact of process changes in an electric vehicle factory, especially when hosted in a cloud environment.

Digital twins are powerful in the EV space because of the flexibility they provide. They can help manufacturers adapt faster than ever to changes in production demand or revised specifications. As production processes evolve, for example, a digital twin allows manufacturers to test new products and configurations before physically implementing them and to share the results with other members of their team to assess risks. Digital twins are also used to track components, software variations and updates throughout the life of a vehicle as well as its digital twin. This information is then stored in the cloud and used for track and trace throughout the connected supply chain.

Cloud-based MES

Automotive manufacturers have long used MES solutions to improve agility, visibility, access control and throughput. These apps are useful for enforcing specific production processes and standards, and they can coordinate activities across an entire plant to keep orders on track and assets running optimally. However, many MES solutions are still deployed on-premises, which presents challenges in terms of streamlining operations and promoting collaboration.

The cloud puts EV manufacturers “in the fast lane” by providing increased flexibility and efficiency to existing infrastructure and systems

Cloud-hosted MES applications can address a manufacturer’s specific production challenges while evolving with its operations and needs. A quality application, for example, can track, identify and alert when a machine or an operator’s processes exceed prescribed limits. Cloud-based MES is favored by many electric vehicle manufacturers today, providing them with everything they need to connect people, systems, machines and supply chains seamlessly and seamlessly. large scale, allowing them to lead with precision, efficiency and agility.

Although the electric vehicle industry has a solid understanding of its trajectory, implementing digital change in a rapid and sustainable manner has proven difficult for many. Although Industry 4.0 and digital transformation are concepts that most electric vehicle manufacturers were aware of, there is a new awareness that embracing them can determine who thrives and who does not over the coming decades. Competing as a player in the burgeoning electric vehicle market requires a manufacturing framework that offers constantly refined and evolving process improvements that enable various elements and systems to work together. To achieve this level of adaptability, intelligent connected cloud technologies must be increasingly used. Reinventing automotive production in this way can help automakers and suppliers stay competitive in unpredictable, but auspicious times.


About the Author: John Miles is Global Head of Future Mobility at Rockwell Automation


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