Tomorrow answers today

Tomorrow answers today

The automotive industry in digital change

Weidmüller Logo

Hardly any other industry faces greater challenges from digital transformation than the automotive sector. Challenges like sustainable and comprehensive mobility as well as technological developments such as production 4.0, industrial Internet of Things, 5G or predictive maintenance give rise to disruptive changes. Elmar Zimmerling, Dr Björn Six and Dr Rolf Sohrmann discuss how Weidmüller is tackling these new challenges together with its automotive customers.

WIN!: How do you assess the technological developments of recent years in the automotive market?

Dr Six: Digitalisation is already clearly making its presence felt in the automotive industry, because the industry is currently undergoing serious upheavals in two respects: established vehicle and mobility concepts are changing on the one hand, particularly as a result of electric mobility and autonomous driving. On the other hand, in the context of Industry 4.0, we are experiencing a wave of new production technologies, for example the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the mobile data network 5G or intelligent energy management and assistance systems. The automotive industry is once again proving its role as a pioneer.

Zimmerling: Regardless of the increasing networking, man still continues to be the decisive factor in production especially from the point of view of modern and intelligent working environments. A large part of the current developments addresses the best possible support for employees in production, such as facilitation of physically stressful work by exoskeletons, mounted overhead on the conveyor belt or wearables (smart watches, smart glasses) for “hands-free” maintenance. Digital competence and lifelong learning in the working world are indispensable. Driverless transport concepts, intelligent assistance systems, innovative identification technologies like RFID or collaborating robots, so-called COBOTS, provide relief. Artificial intelligence, Big Data analysis and predictive maintenance also create a high degree of transparency in planning, control and quality.

Dr Sohrmann: Let’s look at the car as a consumer product in today’s production. Every vehicle is practically unique. However, the multiple feature options can no longer be realised with classic production methods. Short development cycles, the ongoing introduction of new models and alternative drive concepts increase the complexity in production and call for flexible production systems. In the case of e-mobility, for example, the powertrain looks significantly different than for the classic combustion engine. It consists of fewer parts, requires shorter production times, and therefore requires an adapted production environment. The diversity of variants currently overstretches many automotive suppliers’ plants. They often have not been able to expand their equipment and the degree of standardisation to the same extent as the manufacturers themselves.

WIN!: What challenges does the automotive industry currently face?

Dr Six: Currently, all major automobile manufacturers face the challenge of strengthening their core business in a fiercely competitive environment, yet at the same time investing in the new world of electromobility and autonomous driving. Mastering this balancing act only works out by continuously investing in further advancing modern and efficient production concepts.

Zimmerling: The big challenge is the integration of increasingly complex processes and applications into the production environment. This is where modular and decentralized manufacturing concepts prove their worth, allowing functions and components to be installed as required. The modules are located where they are needed in production. Individual functions are no longer stored in the panel, but on the respective machine. This modularity affects both software and hardware, and it meets the requirements of customers in the Industry 4.0 age who are always looking for new technical solutions for an individualised world of end products.

Dr Sohrmann: The mobile communication standard 5G should be emphasised as a great game changer. The technology is currently inspiring the imagination of the entire manufacturing sector, as 5G, unlike its predecessors, for the first time puts a strong focus on machine communication and industrial IoT and thus forms the cornerstone of smart industrial production. For the automotive industry, 5G is on the one hand the enabler of autonomous driving, which is directly linked to an efficient communication network. Modularised manufacturing concepts, on the other hand, can only be successful in factories if the applications themselves can be linked together in real time in different variations according to a kind of modular principle. The launch of 5G will radically drive this process forward.

WIN!: What answers does Weidmüller already offer its automotive customers today?

Dr Sohrmann: Weidmüller already provides active support in the implementation of modular production concepts. In addition to individual solutions for welding robot cabling in harsh production environments, we offer our customers innovative solutions for contactless power and data transmission. This enables wear-free tool changes on robots and recharging of batteries for mobile production modules.

Zimmerling: Flexibilisation and modularisation respond to consumers market pressure and our desire for more and more individualisation. It is getting more and more important to detect anomalies throughout the manufacturing process and to avoid errors before they occur. This requires the permanent analysis of big data volumes in manufacturing processes. Artificial intelligence plays a key role, which we serve with our Industrial Analytics solutions. For instance, this enables our customers to carry out data-supported quality evaluations and predict possible machine failures.

Dr Six: A major driver of the trend towards electrically powered vehicles is the social required sustainability. When charging the vehicle battery, the topic of electricity from renewable energies plays a decisive role. No less important are the sources and quantities of energy required to build an electric vehicle, including the battery. Our energy management solutions around the smart grid provide an answer to the need for increased energy efficiency. Last but not least, as part of the DC Industry joint project, we are partner in that major project whose aim is to redesign the power supply of industrial plants via an intelligent, open DC grid and to digitalise the industrial power supply architecture.

WIN!: Which topics will be of most interest to the industry in the coming years?

Dr Six: I consider the importance of autonomous driving to be even more far-reaching than electromobility. In perspective the automobile becomes a moving living room on wheels. Traffic jams will be an issue of the past, and the “carOS” – the operating system of the car – will become a decisive competitive advantage. Traditional core competencies, such as driving technology and driving pleasure therefore will take a backseat. This is also the reason why the entry of new start-ups or cross-entry companies like Google must be taken seriously.

Zimmerling: I see it in a similar way. Autonomous vehicles are already entering the world’s megacities as robotic taxis. In just a few years, lorries in a digitally linked convoy (platooning) will travel safely on motorways. In addition to the vehicles, automobile manufacturers will also offer a carefree service package with charging stations, PV arrays, electricity storage devices, electricity tariffs and apps. The user experience will accompany us throughout the entire life cycle of the vehicle.

Dr Sohrmann: Weidmüller has these developments in mind. We focus on target applications and use cases in which a specific added value is created through data acquisition, pre-processing, communication and analysis as well as services based on these. We offer end-to-end solutions and are a competent partner for our customers and their suppliers, especially the “Tier 1” system suppliers. They have their origins in mechanics and are rapidly expanding their competences and offerings to mechatronics, software and services. Investments in electrification, e-mobility and battery technology are the result. We support them with tailor-made solutions.

Dr Six: In summary, we are focusing continuously on providing innovative technologies to our customers for their production facilities. The combination of digitalisation and automation, supplemented by in-depth application know-how and specific solutions, for example for intelligent decentralisation tasks, is our recipe for success. With our strategy as a solution provider we are establishing ourselves more and more as an equal partner.

Next article
Preparing the ground for the factory of the future

Preparing the ground for the factory of the future

How we bring Bosch Rexroth's smart floor to life