The next generation of vehicle manufacturing

Manufacturing plant

As the automotive industry looks towards a more sustainable future, major manufacturers across asia, europe and north america are embracing the brave new world of industry 4.0. Here is a snapshot of some of the current activities and future plans.

Nissan Motor Corporation has unveiled its “intelligent factory” initiative to use artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and robotics to manufacture next-generation vehicles utilising a zero-emission production system in Japan. With the intelligent factory, Nissan is moving in the direction where most of the major car manufacturers have. Either already taken significant steps or preparing to in the near future, according to GlobalData, a leading data and analytics company. Nissan has invested US$290m on its Tochigi plant, north of Tokyo. Bakar Sadik Agwan, senior automotive analyst at GlobalData, said: “The Tochigi plant will begin Nissan’s transition into the fourth industrial revolution and will make its vehicle manufacturing more flexible and efficient.” The production line replaces labour with robots for a range of processes that ensure high quality of production with reduced lead time. 

Nissan factory

Mercedes-Benz is already in the game with its “Factory 56”; a flexible, digital, and green production line based on Industry 4.0 principles. Markus Schäfer, a board member at Mercedes-Benz Cars explains the concept and the basic operating principles of one of the most state-of-the-art automobile production halls in the world: “In Factory 56, we are consistently implementing innovative technologies and processes across the board according to the key terms ‘digital, flexible, green’. We have created a modern workspace with greater attention to the individual requirements of our employees. All in all, in Factory 56 we have significantly increased flexibility and efficiency in comparison to our current vehicle assembly halls – and of course, without sacrificing our premium quality. In this way, we are setting a new benchmark in the global automotive industry.”

Ford’s “Blue Oval City” also aims to use “always-on” cloud-connected technologies for quality manufacturing and will become a vertically integrated ecosystem for Ford to assemble an expanded line-up of electric F-Series vehicles. This will include a BlueOval SK battery plant, commitment from key suppliers, and full recycling, with the new Tennessee assembly plant designed to be carbon neutral with zero waste to landfill when fully operational. “This is a transformative moment where Ford will lead America’s transition to electric vehicles and usher in a new era of clean, carbon neutral manufacturing,” said Ford Executive Chair Bill Ford. “With this investment and a spirit of innovation we can achieve goals once thought mutually exclusive – protect our planet, build great electric vehicles that Americans will love and contribute to our nation’s prosperity.”

Ford factory

Returning to Nissan, the intelligent factory aims to achieve carbon neutrality across the life cycle of its vehicles and become carbon neutral by 2050 by improving energy and material efficiency across processes. The company aims for 100% electrification of its manufacturing by 2030 and will rely entirely on renewable sources such as geothermal, solar and wind for all its energy needs, which would be developed internally. “Global automakers’ race to net-zero has been picking up the pace. The shift in focus from ‘green cars’ to complete ‘green manufacturing’ has been disrupting the traditional automotive manufacturing. The disruptions are also aimed at utilising advanced manufacturing technologies to enhance manufacturing quality, reduce lead time and combat certain other challenges faced by the auto industry, such as the labour-intensive nature of the business and the unavailability of a skilled workforce. Not to forget the operational challenges and long production shutdowns that automakers faced due to COVID-19 recently,” said Agwan.

“Disruption in manufacturing and the seriousness placed on net-zero targets by Nissan and other OEMs signals a loud and clear message that car manufacturers are flexible and ready to transform. This is important in the aspect of growing electrification and the invasion of technology players aiming to disrupt automotive manufacturing and breaking the conventional labour-intensive and heavily supplier-reliant manufacturing,” he concluded.

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This article was published 20/01/2022 and the content is current as at the date of publication.