5 Best Digital Transformation Initiatives for Automakers


Build-CommunicationAuto manufacturers all across the world are building and upgrading their facilities with a clear IoT strategy in mind.

Every digital transformation we’ve seen started with a strong foundation made up of a fast and secure network and real-time data that connect people to information. Secure wireless networks offer even more options and flexibility where mobility is a factor. The sky’s the limit with these core elements at your disposal.

Automakers with a strong IoT infrastructure can implement complex systems and tools that take a lot of the guesswork out of their processes. With more automation and support systems at your disposal, you can expect your costs and risk to shrink dramatically. As we’ll see later in this list, some of these tools deliver improved scheduling, maintenance, planning, and training.

Daimler recently established a networked plant floor at their Portland facility with the help of Cisco, opening the doors for new technology in their operations. The new infrastructure includes a combined automation and IT network, giving management access to a wealth data and strengthened control of operations.

If you still haven’t implemented an IoT infrastructure to facilitate real-time communication, consider this, technology waits for no one. There is no better time than now to start future-proofing your manufacturing facilities.


asset-trackingAutomakers with IoT-enabled asset tracking systems are no longer worrying about losing a part along the supply chain.

Thanks to the advanced communication and tracking capabilities, asset tracking systems can tell you exactly where your asset is located in your operations. Benefits of such a system are broad and far-reaching. Customers are happier knowing their projects are safely monitored, and administrative costs are lower thanks to the streamlined process.

The next generation of asset tracking systems is poised to disrupt the manufacturing space. Real-Time Location Systems (RTLS) use familiar technologies, including Bluetooth, to increase the reliability of locating a part in the supply chain. New systems present numerous advantages over legacy systems that use RFID and barcodes, such as ease of integration and increased asset visibility.

Many manufacturers realize the benefits of asset tracking, making it among the most demanded of digital transformations. In a survey by the Internet of Things Institute, over 50% of professionals stated they intend to implement asset tracking as their first IoT initiative. This should come as no surprise given the value gained from being able to track assets from raw material to distribution. In addition to reducing risk, asset tracking delivers cost savings, and inventory minimization.


whiteboardOut with the old—in with the new.

In recent years, many automakers have traded the dry-erase boards for automated part counts and rich-content displays on the plant floor. Why? Because the traditional whiteboard presents numerous problems on the plant floor.

For starters, filling out a whiteboard every hour takes productive not only takes time away from your organization and it’s never truly accurate. Digitization will always represent the facts as they occur and leave subjectivity and human error out of the picture. In the end, manual entry whiteboards are big time-wasters and don’t present an accurate depiction of your production capacity.

The solution is digital whiteboards that tell you if you’re having a good day or a bad day. Televisions that visually display detailed and accurate production data for your operators to keep pace and stay on target. It eliminates the time-consuming efforts of operators and the inaccuracy of manual tracking while delivering new ways to engage employees. For plant managers, it’s like having another supervisor on the plant floor.

Common metrics include real-time OEE, part counts, scrap and more sophisticated systems will even calculate the opportunity cost of lost parts. The beauty of this digital transformation is operators and management can easily assess the health of a production line at-a-glance.


predictive-maintenanceImagine you never had to deal with a critical failure again.

Well, that may be a reality very soon thanks to predictive maintenance systems. Several automakers are implementing these systems during their digital transformation to address pre-emptive machine failures. The system collects a wealth of data relating to machine health to predict when the machine is likely to fail. From there, maintenance can be dispatched to refresh whichever part of the process is likely to cause the issue.

In the last few years, General Motors implemented a predictive maintenance system made by Cisco and Fanuc called ZDT or Zero Downtime. The solution as a whole detected 45 potential cases of failure, allowing maintenance teams to stop impending critical failures before they happened, saving ZDT customers over $40 million in one year. Moving forward, we can expect many more automakers to implement similar systems in order to reduce the risk of critical failure.


avg-01The design of the plant floor is changing fast.

More and more customers are demanding customized solutions which demand a diversity of machine capabilities. Such conditions are infeasible for the average manufacturer to achieve. Some automakers are hoping to tackle this shift in consumer preferences with the help of Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs). These vehicles are indoor vehicles that operate autonomously from any human control or preset path using intelligent sensors and machine learning.

It should come as no surprise that Tesla is among the first manufacturers to take real advantage of autonomous vehicles on the plant floor. Tesla is currently using AGVs to transport material between workstations, with a max capacity of 130lbs. Tesla’s machines are best suited for transporting light and delicate materials, but the future is bright for more powerful vehicles.

As we mentioned earlier, customizability is fragmenting the single assembly line approach of existing manufacturing. With the help of AGVs, manufacturers are beginning to reimagine the design of their plant floor. Rather than fixing machinery to one place, AGVs equipped with industrial equipment can be programmed to redesign the plant floor at the click of a button. Furthermore, materials requiring reworking can be safely transported to the correct process, rather than go through the entire process.

With machine-equipped AGVs, manufacturers can effectively rearrange their entire operation and assembly line without sacrificing valuable productive time. Simply put, AGVs are set to redefine the meaning of “changeovers” in the future.


Now is the time to start thinking digitally. Never before have we seen such advanced systems with the ability to increase our efficiency and cut costs with the touch of the button. Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve already built a plant network, it’s never too late to begin your transformation.

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