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Shifting up a Gear: How Manufacturers Can Take AVs to the Top

July 19, 2022
How manufacturers can bring new, real-world value to AVs by maximizing the potential at every stage—from design to delivery.

Make no mistake, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are revving up on the starting grid. No longer are driverless cars a pipedream, they are fast becoming a reality for everything from transportation to service delivery.

Recent developments in electric vehicles (EVs) and AI technology have paved the way for autonomous vehicle manufacturing to grow into a fully-fledged industry.

Andrew Burton, Industry Director for Manufacturing, IFS, explains how organizations can take their AV efforts to the next level and maximize the potential of autonomous vehicles at every stage of the production process—from design to manufacturing, and ongoing operational support with “Transport as a Service” taking center stage.

Autonomous vehicles are set to take a prime position in the world of transportation, bringing with them the new business potential for existing manufacturers and new market entrants alike.

Many large-name companies have already taken the first steps to incorporate autonomous vehicles into business operations.

Witness 7-Eleven, the company had initially adopted the self-driving Prius to fulfill deliveries and is now taking the next step by partnering with AV start-up Nuro to deploy specially-designed driverless delivery vehicles to its California customers. Other companies doing the same include Toyota with its e-palette vehicle, Ford partnering with Walmart for an AV delivery service, and Amazon filing a patent for an AV parcel retrieval service.

But the era of AVs is still in its infancy, and these programs are just the beginning.

Here, we examine how the potential of the autonomous vehicle market can be maximized at each stage of the production process to take AVs to the next level and beyond—from design to manufacturing and operations, with a little help from supporting software.

1. Sustainability and Efficiency are Designed in Manufacturing

Autonomous vehicles are not designed for general-purpose transport, but rather for specific functions and therefore have design features that optimize capabilities to perform specific tasks.

Because of this, driverless vehicles can be designed to be more streamlined and energy-efficient than conventional automobiles as they do not need to accommodate the needs of human drivers.

Research suggests the practice of “right-sizing” could cut vehicle energy consumption by 50%, which could greatly improve the current energy crisis.

The Essential Role of PDM

Effective Product Data Management (PDM) software is crucial for a clear, effective, and flawless design. Within a PDM system, all data and information relating to the product are stored in one place, integrating Computer-Aided Design (CAD) with Bill of Materials (BOM) and data management with workflow management.

The invaluable information-sharing capability of PDM creates streamlined design processes by removing bottlenecks. Powerful software solutions can help businesses significantly add value to AVs by design.

Modular Manufacturing Simplifies Complexity  

Modularization is another key component of the design phase of AVs. Modularization is a design concept where products are broken down into a series of standardized modules that can easily be assembled and dissembled—allowing individual parts within AVs to be repaired with ease.

This is particularly important in complex products, such as AVs, that contain many interconnected layers of hard and soft technology that complicate assembly and repairs. Not only does modularization enhance the speed to manufacture, but it also aids sustainability by prolonging the overall lifespan of the vehicle, as well as its efficiency by reducing vehicle service times and minimizing disruption to operations.

2. Made to Last: How Manufacturing Can Set an AV Product Apart

During the manufacturing phase, proper management of materials and resources is essential for manufacturing projects to be delivered on time and on budget.

Powerful BOM management software allows businesses to accurately price and order materials required for manufacturing.

Not only does accurate BOM lead to a reduction in lead times and delays, but it also fosters greater sustainability as efficient material procurement creates less waste.

This is essential for a closed-loop supply chain (CLSC) which ensures that the manufacturing of autonomous vehicles is more efficient, more cost-effective, and more sustainable.

Different manufacturing methods and materials can be used in the production of AVs compared to standard automobiles.

Driverless vehicles can be manufactured without the typical safety features of regular vehicles, such as airbags, side view mirrors, etc. and can be made from innovative, lightweight materials instead of heavier materials that would be required for driver safety.

With U.S. automobiles having substantially increased in weight over the past three decades, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates removing safety features can make AVs up to 75% lighter than conventional automobiles, significantly improving energy efficiency and reducing manufacturing lead times.

AV Life Cycle Management Is In a League of Its Own

Autonomous vehicles should be manufactured with ongoing servitization in mind. The idea of “Transport as a Service” will ensure a higher standard of manufacturing, as the AV asset will remain the property of the AV organization.

A Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) approach to manufacturing is crucial to attaining optimal sustainability and efficiency during the overall life cycle of an asset.

PLM will ensure the continued use of a product over a longer period of time while simultaneously reducing waste and maximizing resource utilization.

3. Transport as a Service: Operations and Support That Go Above and Beyond

The AV business will be most effective operating in a shared vehicle model, rather than private car ownership. While this “Transport as a Service” model will require AV organizations to provide continual services, it will result in long-term profitability through increased revenue streams, reduced waste, and asset longevity.

The Tech Enabling “Transport as a Service”

“Transport as a Service” will require the use of advanced route scheduling and cloud communication tools to ensure the efficient operation of AV fleets.

Advanced route optimization can be used to monitor service demand and direct the supply of AVs to where demand is greatest or onto the route that is the most efficient from a fuel and cost-saving perspective.

Under current private car ownership models, the average car sits idle for 95% of the time. “Transport as a Service” ensures AVs will be in constant use through dynamic route scheduling and the ease of repair and servicing means that the downtime for AVs will be significantly less than traditional vehicles.

This minimizes the underutilization of resources and ensures optimal operations.

End-of-life management is also needed to ensure maximum use is obtained from autonomous vehicle assets.

When AVs come to the end of their life cycle, AV organizations, through modularization, can retrieve parts or components to reuse or remanufacture into new products. This ensures that organizations get the most out of the resources and funds they invest into an AV asset.

Autonomous Vehicles Are the Future, and Manufacturers Need to Plan Now

Yes, the production of autonomous vehicles is growing, but of course, the AV market is still in its infancy.

While the technology is readily available to make AVs implementable across various industries, there are still non-tech barriers, such as government legislation and public acceptance to overcome.

However, change is already in motion as these bodies begin to recognize the role AVs can play as vital solutions to global issues of climate change and diminishing resources.

The recent U.S. Infrastructure Bill that allots large sums to develop smart infrastructure is a clear indication of this changing sentiment.

To promote the benefits of AVs to the rest of society and grow market relevance, manufacturers need a strategy to maximize the autonomous vehicle potential across the entire life cycle of each and every AV.