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For automakers, smart factories take the sting out of change

Smart Factories
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Russ Sagert
Russ Sagert

Everywhere you look in the automotive industry, things are changing. The electric engine is replacing the combustion engine. Car buyers now expect a customizable ordering process, with real-time updates on progress and the power to make changes right up until the last minute. Both the manufacturing process and the vehicles themselves are becoming more complex, with the addition of IoT devices and machine learning on the factory floor and sophisticated infotainment systems for those behind the wheel.

Auto manufacturers can’t afford to stick with the status quo, because their competitors are pushing ahead to take advantage of the changing market. So they’re looking to smart factories to help them adapt and improve as quickly as possible, and NetApp solutions can play a key role.

With smart factories, the gains are worth the effort

A smart factory integrates operational technology (OT) with information technology (IT) so that manufacturers can make better data-driven decisions. The volume of available data is increasing exponentially, pouring in from production line sensors and cameras, suppliers, customers, and vehicles. But that deluge of data is valuable only if it can be connected and analyzed in useful ways.

Modernizing the infrastructure to enable smart factories is certainly a challenge, especially for manufacturers that don’t have the required IT expertise. But the gains in efficiency and product quality make it more than worth the effort. Here are just a few examples of how a smart factory can benefit its operators.

Minimizing recalls through audit trails

When a post-production defect is identified, all cars from that production series have to be recalled, on the assumption that they have all been affected. But how do you know which cars are actually affected? Without enough information, you would have to recall a million cars from an entire production line, which would inconvenience a million owners, cost billions of dollars, and impact your brand.

Smart factories make it possible to store and consult detailed production histories. These audit trails record how and when vehicles are assembled and how product quality is assessed. They can track a vehicle throughout its lifetime. With an audit trail, you can pinpoint that a bad part affected one production line in one plant on two specific days and recall only 50 cars instead of a million.

Shortening downtime with informed responses

Disruptions happen. The question is, how fast can you react?

A smart factory helps you move quickly when there’s a problem on a production line, and it can even alert you before a major problem happens so you can plan accordingly. You know who to call, which part to order, and how long it will take to service that machine. You know which orders are affected, and you can easily notify customers about the delay. Communication flows in all directions and enables good decisions, which minimizes unscheduled downtime and results in more efficient operations.

Improving quality with automation

Improved quality standards help automakers reduce their exposure to warranty risk. But examining every part manually is costly in terms of time and money, and it’s prone to human error.

Smart factories help support higher-quality results by enabling automated inspections that rely on algorithmic analysis of camera imagery. Pictures and videos are particularly difficult to collect, store, and interpret because of the high data volumes and complex processing required. But with the right services and analytics, you can realize the cost savings, improved product quality, and operational efficiencies that come with automated inspection.

Delighting buyers with customization

Consumers have grown accustomed to highly responsive digital buying experiences for many other products, from daily purchases of take-out food and groceries to high-end goods like home décor and jewelry.

They expect the same ease and control when purchasing a vehicle. A smart factory makes it possible to keep your buyers apprised of the status of their car’s production, inform them of any delays, and accommodate changes to options at any point. Happy customers who enjoy the buying experience are good for business.

How to create the smart factory

The benefits are compelling, and you may be ready for this transformation, but you don’t necessarily know how to create smart factories or how to transition from your current state. How will you manage the software, create the audit trails, and do over-the-air updates if these are not your areas of expertise?

More manufacturers, both within and beyond the auto industry, are turning to NetApp® solutions, which connect all of your people, machines, and data sources from edge to core to cloud. Our solutions support your new data sources, enabling and protecting your data with ever more sophisticated analytics. NetApp supplies the data management infrastructure, including storage and computing power, on one consolidated platform, and we have professional services to help you design the right solution for your factories.

When it comes to making decisions about where to deploy sensors and applications, which cloud configuration is best, and how to scale as bandwidth or data volumes increase, you can count on NetApp. The NetApp team draws on years of knowledge from running these applications in data centers and in the cloud to help you achieve optimal results. To learn more about leveraging the power of data in the automotive industry, visit NetApp in Automotive.

Russ Sagert

Russ Sagert is the NetApp Business Development Director for Energy and Manufacturing. Russ specializes in developing and bringing digital transformation solutions for industrial manufacturing plant operators to market. He cultivates strategic partnerships to bring to market value-added solutions that enable organizations to improve operational efficiency, drive down costs, maximize top-line revenue, and improve product quality and site safety. As a result, organizations can justify and prioritize deploying technology where it makes the greatest difference.

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