As the autonomous vehicle is quickly developing, the industry’s, as well as the general population’s behavior patterns, will change, creating new opportunities and challenges for all.
The motorized vehicle business in 20 years will bear little resemblance to today’s industry for many reasons, The biggest is the growth of the self-driving vehicle, whether that vehicle is a car, truck, bus, cab, delivery fleet or collaborative robotic vehicle in a warehouse.
On the automobile side of the picture, this technology will gain its most traction in “connected cities” that incorporate all the smart technologies, from location to speed to proximity to even the next available parking spot. These cars will run on hybrid or battery power, with the transmission designs currently being developed.
As a longtime member of that latter arena’s supply chain, our strategy is to further develop new processes and manufacturing technologies in the field of laser beam welding, SDF induction hardening, ECM/PECM, adaptive manufacturing and more in our portfolio to augment our highly diverse offerings for manufacturing systems for precision metal components. We expect cars will have gears for decades to come while their configuration and arrangement in the powertrain will alter dramatically and we must be ready to adapt to customer needs. We remain proactive in our discussions with customers on these topics.
Another of the interesting aspects of this self-driving evolution will be the impact on the general public. Many more people will no longer be driving very often, continuing the ride-sharing trend, while even more people who spent their time driving others will see an increase in their free time, as the basic transportation needs are increasingly met by self-driving vehicles. Likewise, as a result of the enhanced safety protocols with the elimination of human error, there will be a decrease in the accidents on the road, meaning an entirely new focus for highway police, EMS, tow truck, vehicle repair services and even the insurance industry.
From the manufacturing viewpoint, vehicles will come to market faster, a direct result of the emerging digitalization in the industry, spanning the range from idea to mechatronic concept design to digital twin and virtual commissioning of the production machines to feedback from the factory in real time through the use of edge devices, cloud-based technologies and data stream platforms. Each critical member of the manufacturing team will have a dashboard to access data in real time.
On the business side, the number of vehicles produced may not decrease significantly, as the population grows, while the motorized vehicle industry expands into other areas such as materials handling, warehousing, AS/AR and the retail delivery markets. In the day-to-day reality of life, imagine the impact on the household, when most of the daily car trips for groceries, school, doctor visits and entertainment are virtually eliminated through the use of on-call driverless vehicles.
Finally, from our business perspective as suppliers to the industry, it will be necessary to reinvent our companies to some extent and that trend has indeed already begun. I truly believe there will be a rebirth in the industry on a global scale.
As the industry changes to uncover and service the new “mobility class” in the future, we suppliers must continue to explore technologies and help our customers “drive” that process.
Peter Loetzner has worked over 30 years in automotive manufacturing and is currently the CEO of EMAG in North America. The company is a major supplier of manufacturing systems for precision metal components, promoting intelligent automated work cells incorporating advanced manufacturing technologies.