IIoT for Vehicle Assembly

Long before the internet, the pioneer of automobile industry, Henry Ford, realized the importance of reducing the time to assemble vehicles. The result was vehicle assembly line, which reduced the assembly time from almost 12 hours to less than 2 hours. This revolutionized the automobile industry, and paved way for faster vehicular production. As an added bonus, it also lowered the vehicle production cost. The vehicle assembly line is the most important area of manufacturing automobiles today. This is where all the finished parts come together, typically on a conveyor belt, and are joined together by skilled workers.  The assembly line is also where welding, painting and some on the spot finishing is undertaken. The end result is the gleaming car you have set your heart upon. Needless to say, the more efficient the assembly line, more the vehicle output. Before the revolution called Industry 4.0 and IIoT technology, automobile manufacturers applied an assembly line model to production. Vehicles were built using the same design and manufacturing plans.  Since most of the processes were stand alone – including even the most critical task of quality control – the overall quality of the cars that rolled out were subject to human skills. As per surveys conducted by various agencies, one of the main areas of worry in vehicle manufacturing is the quality of work done at the assembly level. More than 80% of the industrial companies rank worker error in this area as the primary cause for quality control issues. Today’s vehicles are complex pieces of machines with lot many built in sensors to make it more comfortable for the passengers. Top of the line automobile manufacturers offer amenities like individual music preference and individual temperature controls. This is just an example or two of the amenities; there are many other conveniences auto manufacturers offer today. While earlier QC in an automobile was restricted to engine performance and safety, today’s customers are more demanding and insist everything to be of top quality. Unlike the automobile manufacturers of yesteryears, imports are a real threat today. In addition, most companies nowadays want real time insight into current production status of the vehicles. To tackle these concerns of coordinating, co-operating networked information and control systems are increasing used as tools in addition to an existing stand alone solution. This is where Industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) software like PTC ThingWorx and PTC Kepware play a crucial role.

Before we proceed, let us first take a real quick look at what IIoT is...
Actually, IoT is an umbrella term with many use cases, technologies, standards and applications. In simple terms, it can be defined as a technology that enables us to connect devices (‘things’) to the Internet and talk to each other. They can exchange information between them and transmit data to other devices and systems. This is done by means of numerous sensors configured for different parameters, which are embedded or attached to the devices. Smart devices and machines can also share information about their internal state, and IoT makes use of this real time data available for smooth running of a process or manufacturing system. When applied to industry, we get Industrial IoT (IIoT). Industrial IoT is the foundation for the paradigm known as known as Industry 4.0, and is a key in the digital transformation of organizations, industries and even the society in general. Today, IoT is an essential driver for customer-facing innovation, data-driven optimization and automation, digital transformation, R&D and entirely new applications, business models and revenue streams across all sectors.

Coming back to vehicles, here is the gist of concerns that automobile manufacturers need to address:

  • Increasing complexity and granularity of assembly through Just in Sequence methods and vehicle & equipment versions
  • Maximum quality level and high flexibility requirements for production, processed and the products through volatile markets
  • Dwindling transparency of data, information and processes through increasing data quantities and the degree of data details

This is where IIoT provides help to vehicle manufacturers. Since it allows several devices to talk to each other, properly implemented IIoT concepts mitigate the above challenges. It does so by means of production digitization, automation, structured networking concepts and process-oriented automation methods. In short, IoT enabled digital transformation is possible by connecting machines on the assembly line, integrating real-time data with other parameters from the shop floor and using intelligent IoT software platform like ThingWorx to make sense of all this data.

Here are the advantages of IIoT for vehicle assembly:

  • Improved productivity because of better monitoring
  • Improved efficiency, as devices communicate with each other
  • Better tracking, as it is possible to trace a vehicle at each stage of production
  • Higher quality, as the data provided by sensors is put to optimal use
  • Deriving insights about condition by efficient and seamless use of production data
  • Less wear and tear of machines due to judicious use
  • Lesser breakdowns by predicting failures before they occur
  • Less energy consumption and carbon footprint as machines run at optimal level

IIoT and Automobile Manufacturers in India
India is fast proving to be the preferred manufacturing choice for automobile companies around the world. European and American car manufacturers have chosen India as a base not only to manufacture and export their vehicles, but also for domestic consumption. These vehicles include everything from low end cars to high end SUVs, and from trucks to buses to tractors. As the per capita income of the average Indian rises, a car is looked upon as a necessity and not a luxury. Pune has emerged as a major automobile manufacturing hub in India. Needless to say, when vehicle manufacturers upgrade their manufacturing plants to embrace Industry 4.0 and IIoT in particular, they do so in their Indian plants as well.

The IIoT Road Ahead

While the benefits of IIoT are known to automobile manufacturers in India, they also need to address the following concerns:

Lack of reliable internet availability – while the overall connectivity has improved, there is still scope for improvement of internet speeds, especially at the outskirts of cities (where most of the automobile plants are located)

Availability of skilled resources – while IIoT is a game changer, the concepts of IIoT need to be assimilated by the plant workers. As per the recent Labour Bureau Reports, availability of skilled labour in India is only 2% – 3% of the total workforce. Thus, there is scope for improvement in labour training to reap the benefits of IIoT.

Overall infrastructure challenges – there still is a dearth of supporting infrastructure in India like a power grid, proper water supply, proper roads, etc.

The government of India is aware of these shortcomings and is taking steps to address these concerns. Once all the systems are in place, IIoT for the automobile sector should really take off and prove to be a boon for vehicle manufacturers.