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Manufacturing the Car of the Future

The car of the future will be far different from the cars of the past. Certainly, the next generation of cars will be electric and smart, collecting and disseminating data to create a more comfortable and convenient ride for drivers—but also the car of the future will be manufactured in a way that is more efficient, resilient, and sustainable. And it’s pretty cool for the environment, too! Let’s go for a manufacturing ride.

Perhaps one of the most recent examples of this came from an announcement last week between Mercedes-Benz and Microsoft Corp. With the new MO360 Data Platform—which is the evolution of the car maker’s digital production ecosystem—Mercedes-Benz is connecting roughly 30 passenger car plants worldwide to the Microsoft Cloud. The value here is it creates data transparency and predictability across production and the supply chain—something we all know is essential when building cars of the future today.

The platform is standardized on Microsoft Azure, providing Mercedes-Benz with flexibility and cloud computing power to run AI (artificial intelligence) and analytics. The platform is already available to teams in EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) and will be deployed in the United States and China.

Here’s a visual of how the technology works on the plant floor. Mercedes-Benz pro (duction staff gets access to the MO360 Data Platform via a self-service portal available on any company device including tablets, smartphones, and laptops. Its visualization with Microsoft Power BI provides a what-you-see-is-what-you-get experience, allowing employees to become data workers with the ability to model and correlate data. The Teams Walkie Talkie app provides workers with an instant PTT (push-to-talk) communication on their business phones—no extra device needed. (A blast from the past for those of us who have been in manufacturing or construction for a while.)

With all of this technology in place in plants around the world, cars will be produced in a way that is more efficient, resilient, and sustainable. So, what will the impact be on each of these three areas?

Efficient Production

With the MO360 Data Platform, teams can work together and leverage information to identify potential supply chain bottlenecks faster, which ultimately enables a more dynamic prioritization of production resources toward electric and top-end vehicles.

What’s more, Mercedes-Benz can create a virtual replica of its vehicle manufacturing process from assembly insights, production planning, shop floor logistics, supply chain, and quality management. This virtual simulation can be run before trying them on the shop floor, which will ultimately accelerate operational efficiency, as well as energy savings.

The numbers tell an interesting story here. With the MO360 Data Platform, teams at Factory 56 have shortened their daily shop floor meeting by 30%. In addition, they identify priority tasks to optimize production workflows within two minutes, which took up to four hours prior to the introduction of the platform.

Looking to the future, the car maker is also exploring the integration of the data platform with other data sources from other departments to enable a digital feedback loop. This will enable continuous learning and innovation across the group.

Resilient Production

Looking beyond a more efficient production process, the platform also creates resiliency, especially in the supply chain. With the platform, teams can analyze and visualize production data, which enables a dynamic allocation of operational resources within and across plants to prioritize the manufacturing of low-emission and top-end luxury vehicles.

The value here is the Mercedes-Benz Operations Logistics team will be able to solve supply chain bottlenecks much faster. Workers will be able to compare the availability of components, including semiconductors, with production orders. This data can them be used to keep the production running and prioritize relevant vehicles even if supply chain challenges and material shortages do in fact occur—which we know they will.

To tackle shortages in components and prevent delivery delays, the MO360 Data Platform will enable teams to explore a variety of production scenarios depending on the availability of components like semiconductors, based on realtime data about the quality of parts and equipment. This is expected to result in productivity gains of 20% in passenger car production by 2025 and help avoid unplanned downtimes.

In today’s economic climate, resiliency is perhaps one of the most important characteristics needed in a manufacturing plant. Without it, production will stall. If technology can help provide resiliency to a plant, I say do it.

Sustainable Production

If you have been following my blogs for the past few years, then you know sustainability is near and dear to me—and I like dissecting how different companies are approaching it. For Mercedes-Benz, it is definitely one of the top three pillars—and this technology is enabling it to reach its goals.

The MO360 Data Platform will make it easier to maintain production of both electric and combustion-engine vehicles on a single production line as the market demand gradually shifts toward an all-electric future, according to the company.

In addition to providing more sustainable vehicles to consumers, Mercedes-Benz is also using technology to reduce its own ecological footprint during vehicle production. In fact, it has an Ambition 2039 initiative to become carbon neutral by 2039.

Here is how it is doing it. With the data analytics tool, teams can track and forecast carbon emissions, energy, and water usage, as well as waste management. With this information in hand, the company can roll out best practices across the production network.

Mercedes-Benz plans to cover more than 70% of its energy needs through renewable sources by 2030 by expanding solar and wind power at its own sites and through Power Purchase Agreements. The company also intends to cut its use of water by 35% through the reuse of water in production.

We have looked at three big needs in car production—efficiency, resilience, and sustainability—and how one car maker is using technology to improve each. With all this in mind, how will you bring technology to your company’s operations and do the same?

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