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How Digital Transformation is Reshaping Auto Manufacturing

Apr 17, 2023

The automotive industry has experienced several transformations throughout its history. Today’s biggest shift is digital transformation, which is the shift to using entirely digital methods for R&D and other internal business practices. Going digital means more than just using computers, which has been commonplace for over 40 years. So, what makes this transformation so significant? Not only will it greatly speed up vehicle development and reduce manufacturing errors, but it’ll also benefit your business as a whole.

Digital Transformation in Auto Manufacturing

How Digital Transformation Is Reshaping Auto Manufacturing

The Biggest Change in the Automotive Industry Since the Assembly Line

Major automotive companies have been making changes to implement an entirely digital environment for R&D and manufacturing processes. Ford, for example, has embraced augmented reality and virtual reality tools to visualize concept vehicles and early production models. GM has bet heavily on new design methods to accelerate its EV development. When major automakers change their processes, it affects the thousands of companies that exist to provide support to their primary customer.

By far, the biggest change has been the adoption of digital model-based engineering. Also known as MBE, this method replaces the outdated “document-based” engineering system. Document-based engineering gives every component a spec sheet and requirements for manufacturing and assembly. However, this method struggles to accomodate changes. Each document is separate from the others. MBE, in contrast, unifies all components under one global digital model. If you’re a supplier, you need to keep up with this transition.

Digital Model Based Engineering and Manufacturing Advantages

What are the advantages of using MBE for design and manufacturing? First, MBE brings agility and flexibility. With MBE, there is one approved vehicle model with each of its components included. Any time a change is made to a component in the primary model, the design is updated to reflect those changes, which may have a ripple effect. Traditional methods require lots of back and forth between different areas of the company to execute these changes. MBE simplifies this process.

For example, using a larger bolt means that the chassis needs larger holes. Once the bolt component is updated, the manufacturing requirements for the chassis are updated instantly. Engineers on the factory floor can make those adjustments quickly and get back to production. These time savings translate to cost savings as well. MBE reduces errors as you eliminate many of the communication mistakes that lead to assembly problems. However, MBE goes beyond manufactruing processes.

Digital Models Update Other Areas Automatically

Automatic updating extends beyond the engineering team. When a model gets updated, relevant notifications can be pushed to other departments. For example, if the marketing department is working on a car’s official brochure, they can automatically update the components on spec sheets and in the brochure’s copy. A change to the vehicle’s design could impact aspects like towing capacity that marketers want to highlight.

Likewise, the financial side of the business needs to stay aware of how costs are affected by changes. New components may require more expensive materials than had been originally accounted for. With these automatic updates, the company can quickly determine how their profit margin is impacted by a change, including how long new inventory may be delayed due to the modifications needed on the production line. The end result is less emailing and confusion and more action.

Speed Up Suppliers

Saudi Arabia, for instance, has put a heavy emphasis on becoming a production hub for major automotive companies. Bringing the automotive industry to Saudi Arabia requires an extensive supplier network, however. Assembly plants won’t be built far away from suppliers due to the added financial and time costs of importing components. The 2030 plan has prioritized this goal in the kingdom, and going digital is vital if you hope to be one of the suppliers that lands a lucrative contract.

MBE and other digital technologies make it easier for automakers to work with suppliers. Rather than revisiting designs on paper every time a change is made, suppliers can receive updates when the base model is changed. The new spec requirements can be forwarded automatically to the engineers on your team so that you can adjust production quotas and component manufacturing processes quickly. A supplier that can react fast is one that a major car manufacturer will stick with long term.

Enabling Automation

We’ve discussed automatic notifications, but that’s not all you can automate with MBE and a complete digital transformation. Within your own company, you can automate many other tasks. For instance, if a new part spec is pushed to you, you can automate your orders for raw materials to reflect the increase or decrease in the quantity needed. If the automaker calls for more units, you can likewise automate those requests down the line.

You can even automate employee scheduling to ramp up productivity to meet increased demand. Similarly, you can automate your invoicing to the automaker to ensure cash flow to accommodate new requests.

Cloud Software Improves Company Processes

One of the side effects of going digital is that your files and activity will transition to the cloud. Modern digital software requires the cloud to function, and it’s in your best interest to migrate to cloud-only services. Moving to the cloud makes remote work easier, which improves collaboration between your business and the automaker. Furthermore, it reduces the likelihood of data loss due to human error. You can also capture more data about your business to optimize your processes.

To fully complete your digital transformation, it helps to have experts who’ve guided other companies. Contact SAAB RDS to schedule a meeting with our experts and get your automotive business ready for growth.