Move to Smart Automotive Manufacturing With Standardization

  • August 13, 2018
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Rockwell Automation
  • Feature
Move to Smart Automotive Manufacturing With Standardization
Move to Smart Automotive Manufacturing With Standardization

By Larry Smentowski, Senior Industry Consultant for Automotive and Tire, Rockwell Automation

Production standards are not new to automotive manufacturing. But they are gaining a renewed relevance as the auto industry undergoes dramatic change.

Electric vehicle start ups, for example, are disrupting markets but have far less production experience than established automakers. They need production standards in place to help manage complexity, keep costs down and optimize time to market. Many automakers in emerging markets also have little or no production standards. But they will need to adopt them to compete with global automakers.

Even some of the world’s largest automakers are realizing they need to update their well-established production standards. Updates could include consolidating regional standards into global standards to create more common operations worldwide. Or it could include revising standards to better manage model complexity, and streamlining machine designs and plant inventories to make plants more flexible.

Smart manufacturing or Industry 4.0 initiatives present an opportunity to help all automakers address their challenges. But those initiatives will only be successful if automakers first have network, control and software standards in place.


Why Standardize?

Newer auto makers are learning what their established counterparts have known for decades: Standardization can deliver significant business benefits.

Standardizing components, for instance, can help reduce the number of suppliers that automakers work with and help lower their acquisition costs. Longer term, it can also help them streamline inventories, reduce support costs and simplify workforce training.

And by standardizing everything from machine control specifications, to process tooling and data naming conventions, automakers can synchronize all aspects of vehicle launches. They can also reduce the likelihood of unexpected change orders or costly delays.

Standardization goes hand-in-hand with globalization. Automakers that want to consistently build the same vehicles are better equipped to do so when they have standardized machines, networks, processes and software in place at every production facility.


Creating Robust Standards

For manufacturers with no production standards, a good first step is to establish a centralized engineering group. This group should consist of manufacturing, controls and process engineers, who can lead the charge in developing production standards. Their focus should be on creating rigid or “bullet-proof” standards, which will help minimize the likelihood of change orders arising from problems that weren’t proactively addressed.

Many automakers are eager to capture the value of Industry 4.0 and thus want to begin their standardization efforts at the software layer. But it’s important to start at the automation layer.

For example, creating equipment standards around the use of intelligent motion machines can speed up cycle times and reduce maintenance. Design and configuration tools that take advantage of reusable standards can also help automakers create fast and repeatable assembly line configurations. What’s more, these tools can be used in the future to reconfigure lines in a fraction of the usual time.

Next, automakers should create network standards to create a free flow of information across the enterprise. Freely available guides like the Converged Plantwide Ethernet (CPwE) reference architectures can help simplify the creation of network standards.

Finally, at the software level, OEMs can use building blocks of code to make sure that controllers, equipment and processes adhere to specific standards. Standards-based equipment, for example, will use the same building blocks of code no matter what plant it goes to or which OEM it comes from. Those building blocks make equipment easier to maintain across an automaker’s organization and can help reduce mean time to repair (MTTR).

Data naming standards are also crucial to helping workers understand the data they’re looking at. And standards should be in place for how plants are implementing manufacturing execution system (MES) software and analytics solutions.


Maintain and Improve

Once standards are deployed, manufacturers can take some key actions to maintain and improve them for the long haul.

First, many manufacturers are eager to adopt new control and automation technologies with hopes of improving productivity, uptime and more. But sometimes they’re too eager, and as a result they don’t look past the component itself to understand the larger effect that change will have on their operations. The reality is that a technology-driven change requires that manufacturers move their whole organization toward that change to accommodate it.

Because of this, automotive manufacturers should plan to keep a control standard for at least two or three years. This will allow them to learn from it and improve it before they make any technology changes. And when they do make a technology change, they should phase it in with small steps so their workforce, processes, and regional and global specifications can adapt to it.

Beyond technology changes, manufacturers should also actively evaluate their standards and compile lessons learned to continually improve them. These evaluations should occur on a regular ongoing basis, such as every month and with every new launch.

Finally, manufacturers shouldn’t hesitate to seek outside assistance to help review and strengthen their standards. While some third-party service providers make a comfortable living by providing reactionary support, the true value in outside help comes from vendors that can help a manufacturer proactively improve their standards. That could mean helping refine machine-design standards, minimizing change orders, improving commonality across standards or identifying workforce needs.

For example, a third-party audit can be beneficial for automotive manufacturers that have mature production standards in place but want to review or solidify them. The audit could identify where the manufacturer’s standards can be improved, such as with the addition of a revision-and-control process or a checks-and-balance process in the company’s plant.


Rethinking Established Standards

Established automakers can look to one of their own for lessons on how they can use standards to embrace smart manufacturing.

Jaguar Land Rover is in the midst of a years-long drive toward standardization. At the start of the project, the U.K.-based automaker was saddled with multiple mechanical standards, software platforms and control architectures. Now, the company is using greater standardization to help simplify cost planning, speed up facility ramp ups, reduce spares procurement and more.

A key goal of the project is to establish a single control architecture. To achieve this goal, Jaguar Land Rover has been transitioning its control hardware to the diagnostic control protocol (DCP). This sequence-based software control standard is well-suited for sequential process automation lines, and is understood by European line builders and Tier 1 controls companies.

The company is also using scalable and secure network architectures to create an EtherNet/IP backbone in its production facilities. EtherNet/IP is based on standard, unmodified Ethernet protocol, and is helping Jaguar Land Rover liberate and manage its data to improve business performance. This kind of capability is increasingly critical for automakers as they use smart manufacturing to make smart cars. Indeed, Jaguar Land Rover built its new F-PACE connected car in a digitized plant.


An Ongoing Commitment

Given the challenges that automotive manufacturers face today, consistent and repeatable production standards can help them better manage complexity, cut costs, optimize processes, and maximize the success of their vehicle launches. But manufacturers should never become content with their standards. Instead, they should continually evaluate and refine their standards to make sure that they stay relevant in an always-changing – and more complex – automotive industry.

EtherNet/IP is a trademark of ODVA Inc.

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