The Assembly Plant of the Future

IDC Manufacturing Insights' new report, ”The Assembly Plant of the Future—Restructuring Global Manufacturing to Meet the Challenges of the Global Economy,” written by Joe Barkai and Pierfrancesco Manenti, discusses the challenges of global manufacturing and how forward-looking automakers are restructuring both design and manufacturing strategies to improve efficiency and remain competitive.

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The study is based upon interviews with automotive manufacturers and suppliers in the United States, Europe and Asia.

According to the report, the automotive industry is undergoing dramatic changes as it copes with new economic realities, seeks to meet shifting demands in consumer preferences, and incorporates new technologies to improve energy efficiency, safety and comfort. ”The manufacturing of automobiles today has not fundamentally changed since 1913 when Henry Ford revolutionized the assembly process by creating the moving assembly line,” said Barkai, practice director of product lifecycle strategies at IDC Manufacturing Insights, in the news release. ”It is clear, based on our research, the manufacturing process must be improved dramatically in order to meet the economic and technology challenges of 21st-century global manufacturing.”

Technology plays a role in this new world. ”A question manufacturers need to ask themselves is, ‘Do we have the proper internal systems in place—especially information technology (IT).' When we neglect IT, we have problems,” Barkai told Automation World. ”These problems are compounded by the global, elongated and fractured supply chains. There must be consistent data structures and bills of material with good visibility and ability to extract best practices. So often, companies grew so quickly through acquisition that their systems didn't keep up.”

IDC Manufacturing Insights research indicates that the impact of globalization, growing operational complexity, and diverse markets and consumers demand that that overall manufacturing strategy should shift from economy of scale to economy of scope, focusing on global flexible manufacturing capabilities. A ”design anywhere, make anywhere, sell anywhere” strategy will lead to the formation of a global plant floor. Moreover, automakers will improve portfolio-level planning and incorporate design-for-capabilities in the design of future vehicles.

No one strategy or approach can meet all these needs and survive the rapid rate of change, the IDC Manufacturing Insights study contends. Manufacturers will have to use a blend of strategies and undertake several process improvement initiatives to realize the architecture necessary to enable the plant of the future. Among these process improvements are the adoption of emerging IT technologies and operating models—especially in pervasive communication, cloud-based architectures and mobile devices—which will provide a solid foundation for powering the assembly plant of the future.

Barkai told Automation World, ”The most interesting thing for me was less about flexible manufacturing or even the global plant floor. It was how do companies start to design for capabilities. It's starting to think of design based on the capabilities of plants and locations. Even portfolio considerations, for example, how to look at my entire portfolio to make sure that I can build in each target market, say in Germany, the Czech Republic or Viet Nam.”

Automation World readers can view a complimentary Web conference by the authors at www.idc-mi.com. The report is available for purchase by non-clients at www.idc-mi.com/getdoc.

Gary Mintchell, gmintchell@automationworld.com, is Editor in Chief of Automation World.

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