Industry 4.0 is now ushering in Automobile 4.0 in its wake, set to enter the era of autonomous vehicles running on electricity.
The automobile industry is right there among the most automated manufacturing enterprises. In fact it is the automobile that started the trend of automation in industry long before the concept had evolved and the word automation coined, when Henry Ford first introduced assembly line production in 1913, and in the words of a historian, freed the common people from the limitations of their geography. The assembly line production at Ford not just revolutionised the automobile industry but had far reaching impact on the American way of life – bringing the automobile to the masses, paying better wages to workers leading to a wave of migrations and paving the way for further innovations in manufacturing in general, the automotive industry in particular. It also led to massive spend on building roads and creating the supporting infrastructure.
As the assembly line started by Ford grew in sophistication, rival General Motors was quick to adopt the early trends in flexible manufacturing in the 1920s with cars produced in various models. Though Europe and Japan – the two other regions that were at the forefront of automobile development – were slow to adopt mass manufacturing techniques, by the early 1930s they were competing with the Americans on technology before World War II interrupted the run as most manufacturers were required to assist the war effort. Post WW-II, automation made a big entry and impacted the automotive industry setting it on the path to modernisation worldwide.
The next stage of automation was launched with the entry of robots on the shop floor in the US in the 1960s and later when Taiichi Ohno introduced the Just in Time concept at Toyota in Japan in the 1970s, which was later adopted by other automakers globally. Today cars are routinely produced at the rate on one every few minutes in factories around the world. These have grown in fuel efficiency, reduced emissions, are faster, safer and more reliable and new models developed with boring regularity thanks to developments in CAD/CAM design software suites and rapid prototyping, now aided by 3D manufacturing.
Industry 4.0 is now ushering in Automobile 4.0 in its wake, set to enter the era of autonomous vehicles running on electricity rather than fossil fuels and connected with the rest of the IIoT ecosystem in myriad ways. If the radio was introduced in cars for the first time in 1924, by 2024, cars will turn into full fledged work places on the move in the day time and entertainment zones at night, cruising autonomously on the roads, yet connected to the rest of the world seamlessly.