Electric Vehicle Production: Life in the Fast Lane

  Electric Vehicle Production: Life in the Fast Lane

By John Miles, World Leader in Electric Vehicles, and Paolo Butti, Industrial Manager for Automotive and Tire, Rockwell Automation

You can say something about the future of the automotive industry: everything is electric.

Sales of electric vehicles in the US reached nearly 200,000 last year, a jump of more than 25 percent compared to 2016 [1]. China has done even better with 770,000 vehicles sold – an increase of more than 50 percent over the previous year [2].

A slowdown is unlikely in the foreseeable future: one in six new cars sold worldwide in 2025 is expected to be electric. [3] And by 2040 it is estimated that half of all new vehicle sales worldwide will be electric. [4]

If you make a claim in this fast-growing and increasingly overcrowded market, you probably have one goal: bring your electric vehicles to market as quickly as possible. But the challenges you face and the approach you take to achieve that goal will vary depending on whether you're a young start-up or a mature automaker.

We know that because we worked closely with both automakers. If there is a key to take away based on all our interactions, then technology alone is not the answer. They need a comprehensive strategy to produce vehicles quickly, at the highest quality and with minimum risk.

Getting Started

If you're a start-up, you have a significant job implementing production operations. Often, it's about growing quickly from a one-man production team with a vision to a full-fledged manufacturing facility. However, such fast rollouts can bring many challenges.

We've seen startups struggle to adopt or enforce best practices for automotive production. And they had serious consequences, including production delays, accidents at work and higher production costs.

It is therefore important that you already have a competent industrial partner at the beginning of the planning process.

The right partner can give you the in-depth knowledge of automotive production best practices and process optimization you need to avoid frequent pitfalls. They can also help you build your automotive supply chain. For example, we helped start-ups find the right machine and line builder partners. We even created setup guides for control engineers, as many young companies just do not have in-depth expertise in this area and do not know what questions they should ask jobseekers.

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Finally, the right industry partner can help you in delivering Industry 4.0 concepts. This can help you identify inefficiencies and achieve continuous improvement in your operations as they become established.

At the other end of the spectrum, if you are a mature automaker, you will most likely rush to follow the demand for electric vehicles

Yes, you have deep industry experience and an established global supply chain by your side. But this will not necessarily help to cope with the huge changes that are being made with electric vehicles, such as new battery cell operations, battery packs, electric motors and powertrains that can disrupt your business. Preparing for these new operations requires time, manpower and money. This is a challenge if you are trying to bring your competition to market, be it another older brand owner or an EV startup.

With Industry 4.0 concepts and technologies, you can extend or even redesign your global activities electric vehicles.

Embrace Industry 4.0

Smart features and downloadable updates make electric vehicles more consumer electronics products. These smarter, more connected vehicles require a smarter, more connected production approach.

Many mature automakers already use connected operations, but often only in a limited way or only for some of their operations. An Industry 4.0 strategy leverages seamless connectivity and data sharing, as well as industrial IoT technologies for your entire enterprise. In this way, you can improve insight into vehicle production processes and enable employees at all levels to make better and faster decisions.

For example, we've used intelligent machines to help teams build more efficient processes and identify causes of incidents faster for faster restores. We've also used advanced analytics that monitor inventory data over time to help companies predict where problems can occur so their maintenance teams can prevent stops from occurring.

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Create Smart, Agile Operations

An integrated automation architecture simplifies intelligent production in a few key ways. It helps you access the right information at the right time to make important operational decisions. It allows easy integration of devices into your system. And you can respond faster to market demands.

So what is an integrated architecture? It uses control and information systems that share a common network, a common control platform, data structures, and a common development environment.

A single network can seamlessly connect plant systems with each other and with the rest of your business. A common control platform enables more efficient installations, operation and maintenance. Common, standardized data structures make it easy to collect data across the enterprise and turn it into actionable information for better decision-making. A single development environment can reduce the time and cost of designing, developing and deploying automation projects.

This architecture allows you to take advantage of networked technologies and features that help you to produce smarter and faster. Three solutions you should consider in your electric vehicle applications are:

Scalable MES: Custom Manufacturing Execution System (MES) applications help you understand and manage production without having to compromise on a complete MES Software Package

The applications address specific challenges such as quality, machine performance or genealogy, and track & trace. You can start at the machine or workspace level with a single application and minimal infrastructure requirements. You can add more applications or expand to an integrated MES solution as you increase production and realize ROI.

Scalable Infrastructure: These offerings allow you to converge your networks and connect your asset and business systems, giving your employees access to information to make better decisions.

Scalable infrastructure offerings can be especially valuable when your business activities are small or when you have time, talent or budget constraints. For example, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) can reduce the overhead of designing, deploying, and maintaining a network infrastructure. It can also shift the cost of your network from a capital outlay to an operating expense.

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IaaS combines pre-built network solutions, on-site configuration and 24/7 remote monitoring in a single contract. The offerings use world-class technologies and architectures and can help you optimize the performance, efficiency and availability of your network architecture.

Independent Cart Technology: Systems built with this technology will change the rules of the game in the production of electric vehicles. They offer the potential for higher line speeds and reduced downtime, helping you get to market faster.

Independent-cart technology allows a brand owner to move small components or even entire bodies faster and faster around a plant than traditional mechanical solutions. This can help you accelerate production in a traditional body shop or in areas such as battery cell packaging, where high-speed mining has been a challenge.

You can change the features of self-sustaining systems Quick changeover times at the touch of a button These systems also have fewer moving parts, reducing your need for maintenance and improving uptime.

Start with a Strategy

The EV market will only get hotter as more automakers try to work their way out. The right expertise, partners and technologies are essential for your success. More important is a sophisticated strategy that addresses the unique challenges of electric vehicle production and defines how Industry 4.0 concepts can help you solve them.

[1] 2017 was the best year for sales of electric vehicles in the US. Ars Technica, January 4, 2018

[2] Electric vehicle sales surging by 53% in 2017, Automotive News China, January 16, 2018

[3] One of six new cars in the world will be electric By 2025, Bloomberg, Nov. 28, 2017

[4] Electric Vehicle Outlook 2017, Bloomberg New Energy Finance, July 6, 2017.

 Electric Vehicle Production: Life in the Fast Lane

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