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By Rich Handley

ABI Research Reports Auto Makers Leading Smart Manufacturing Advances

The adoption of smart manufacturing technologies is growing in almost all industries within leading manufacturing countries, such as the United States, Japan and Germany, and the automotive industry has been a pioneer for most technologies in each nation, according to a new report released by ABI Research, a market-foresight advisory firm providing strategic guidance on transformative technologies. The report is titled "Smart Manufacturing in Automotive."

"The automotive industry has been a pioneer in adopting many transformative technologies because it has more of a need and a demand to increase flexibility and agility," said Pierce Owen, a principal analyst at ABI Research, in a prepared statement. These technologies include additive manufacturing, artificial intelligence, machine learning, augmented reality, collaborative robotics and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms. According to the report, some of the leading automotive original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), including Audi, Volkswagen, Ford, Honda, Daimler and BMW, have piloted and, in some cases, scaled these technologies.

In terms of overall automation, while most industries have automated 20 to 30 percent of their operations, the automotive industry has automated closer to 50 percent of operations. This has resulted in more real-time operational data made available to automotive OEMs and their suppliers. Some OEMs use 3D printers for customized or low-volume production parts.

Smart manufacturing vendors targeting the automotive sector have already seen high levels of progress, ABI Research reports. Dassault Systèmes has Honda North America using DELMIA to design and simulate its plant floors before building them, and works with Cummins on the execution side. Telit also works with Honda North America, connecting its equipment. In addition, Telit works with BMW as a client in its factories in Africa and the United States, and has Ford as a client with factories spread around the globe. EOS sells 3D printers to BMW, Audi and Daimler, while Universal Robots sells robots to 90 percent of all OEMs, and more to suppliers.

To meet the complex demands of the automotive industry and scale adoption, the research indicates, smart manufacturing technology vendors need to understand the automotive industry's challenges, offer solutions with business cases and have a stakeholder management strategy for all involved parties.

"As in many other industries, automotive manufacturing faces the challenges of bridging the gap between IT and OT and providing low-code or no-code tools for content creation, app development, and logic configuration," Owen said in the prepared statement. "Technology vendors targeting the automotive manufacturing industry need to understand that while automotive shares many challenges with other industries, it often takes them to extremes. For example, while all industries struggle right now to deploy new technologies and integrate them with current processes, the magnitude and complexity in automotive manufacturing present greater risks. One minute of downtime in automotive can cost tens of thousands of U.S. dollars."

If smart manufacturing vendors wish to scale solutions and platforms in the automotive sector, they must guarantee and prove they can provide value, the report indicates. "Automotive manufacturing deals with relatively high-value, high-volume and high-complexity products," Owen said in the prepared statement. "Neither automotive OEMs nor their suppliers will take gambles on unproven technologies when it comes to their production lines. Vendors must define, prioritize, prove and present their business case before approaching this sector. If they can do so and show potential automotive clients exactly how to implement and integrate their technology without disrupting production, this market will adopt and scale the solution."

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