Automotive Manufactiring Car Doors - Image by LEEROY Agency from PixabayRockwell Automation has published its 8th Annual “State of Smart Manufacturing Report: Automotive Edition”. The report is relatively short at 13 pages and is based on a survey of only 197 managers and executives from manufacturers within the automotive industry across 13 countries. The survey was conducted by Sapio Research, and it appears to have been solely quantitative. It also forms a subset of the larger State of Manufacturing report.

What is in the report?

The report is broken down into four sections. An introduction that looks at the challenges automotive companies face and how technology will feature to overcome those challenges and act as a catalyst for transformation.

The two main sections are:

  • General attitudes toward technology look at the investments companies make and which investments they see are paying off best.
  • Adopting Smart Manufacturing identifies which technologies organisations have invested in already, which have delivered against the expected ROI and what barriers were faced.

The conclusion looks at sustainability and ESG, its adoption and the reasons behind that adoption with a snapshot of what improvements automotive manufacturers are looking to drive over the next five years. The report concludes with a brief look at the demographics of the survey. It found that 97% of automotive manufacturers and suppliers report having sustainability and ESG initiatives in place. 49% are pursuing sustainability and ESG initiatives as a competitive differentiator, and 41% to improve efficiencies.

The report contains data visualisations and analysis, though no quotes from industry experts or customers exist.

Paul Epperson, vice president Global Industry – Auto, Tire & Advanced Mobility, Rockwell Automation
Paul Epperson, vice president Global Industry – Auto, Tire & Advanced Mobility, Rockwell Automation

Paul Epperson, vice president Global Industry – Auto, Tire & Advanced Mobility, Rockwell Automation, commented, “Over the last few years, the automotive industry has been tasked with navigating many new challenges and obstacles. From shifts in consumer demand and supply chain issues, to microchip shortages and manufacturing workforce challenges, the industry has been compelled to remain agile.

“For instance, with the automotive industry’s switch to electric vehicles, manufacturers are having to increase their workforce as they make the transition, not only at their existing facilities but also as they open greenfield plants. It is evident from reviewing the survey findings that navigating these challenges by adopting new technologies, while balancing quality with profitable growth, are top of mind for automotive leaders.”

The key findings

The results are only indicative as this is just a subset of a much larger report with a smaller sample. Also, without a qualitative element, there is a lack of insight into some drivers.

The report looks at the challenges facing the automotive manufacturing industry, citing internal challenges of balancing quality and growth (43%) as the biggest hurdle and onboarding employees (39%) as the second highest. It is unclear what the onboarding challenge is, though. Is this recruiting the new employees, training them during the onboarding process or what? The top two external challenges faced are inflation (47%) and raw material shortages, such as microchips (54%).

Technology is seen as a key enabler for mitigating the risks posed by these challenges by 59%. Digital transformation is key. There are several catalysts for digital transformation, the top three being

  • Minimise costs (43%)
  • Improving Quality (42%)
  • Overall Equipment Effectiveness (40%)

What is notable is that 31% of automotive manufacturers either plan to or have already invested in AI and machine learning technologies. It is a shame the report did not dive deeper into this.

23% of the operating budget is spent on technology, with automation of business processes (36%) and automated process enforcement (36%) the most popular planned investment. This contradicts other surveys that see spending on supply chain solutions increasing. Only 34% cited this in this report.

The investment in business processes is no surprise as firms see the greatest ROI from Proces automation; effectively, they are doubling down. The report cites a long list of technologies, but a larger survey and a breakdown by company size might have shed greater insights.

However, technology is not a catalyst for losing workers, as 85% of automotive manufacturers expect to maintain or grow employment due to technology adoption. To further back the importance of technology, 97% of respondents believe smart manufacturing is very important to the future success of their business. In the next five years, organisations plan to invest in:

  • Increased automation (44%)
  • Better use of data analytics (41%)
  • Automated Process enforcement (40%)

There are challenges, however, with:

  • Lack of skill set to manage smart manufacturing implementation – 48%
  • Employee resistance to technology adoption and change – 46%

Both of these can be mitigated by partnering with the right organisation to provide the digital skills and the change management expertise to help with adoption. Epperson added, “Rockwell is uniquely positioned to serve as a trusted advisor in the automotive space for companies around the world, not only because of our dynamic portfolio of industry solutions but also our extensive partner ecosystem.  

“Wherever companies are in their digital transformation and smart manufacturing journeys, Rockwell can meet them there and help drive innovative growth.”

Enterprise Times: What  does this mean

While the sample from this survey is small and divided by different countries and corporate sizes, some commonalities appear. Manufacturing leaders see technology as an enabler and are increasing investment across a range of solutions. One can surmise they also see technology as a catalyst for growth, and given that growth, a firm believes that employment will increase over the next year. This is not, however, seen across manufacturing.

While the report notes automated mobile robots and automated guided vehicles as a technology with a successful ROI, there is no reference to the electrification of vehicle fleets or technology supporting it, such as batteries. There are some useful insights in the report, and understanding where automotive manufacturers are looking to invest makes it worth reading. What is clear, though, is that manufacturers need the support of system integrators and vendors to achieve continuous digital transformation.

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