Tuesday 29th September 2020

From employee safety to supply chain efficiency: How the IoT is driving developments

Published on August 12th, 2020

We’re all aware of the impact of recent events on the automotive sector. Over the past six months the number of cars built in the UK has fallen to the lowest since 1954. In Europe, says Luc Vidal-Madjar, head of Global IoT Solutions at BICS, some car producers expect output to drop 20-25% this year, reflecting a worldwide trend.

The sector has suffered like all parts of the global economy. So, like other markets, it must look to new ways of working. This will aid recovery from the current slump. Crucially, this is also an opportunity to improve and modernise operations across the industry. Underpinning this must be the Internet of Things (IoT), powered by reliable, global connectivity.

The benefits of the IoT are significant. Supply chains will be more transparent and processes will be planned around availability of parts. Employees in manufacturing plants will get safer working conditions. Factory owners will be able to optimise production and minimise waste. The end-user experience will be optimised with more in-car entertainment, advanced safety features and proactive diagnostics.

There are a lot of moving parts in the IoT ecosystem. As such, let’s identify how a connected environment would benefit each stage of the lifecycle of a vehicle. While the parts may seem very different, the challenge that stakeholders face is similar. These stakeholders may be experts in automotive matters, but many lack the telco tools and knowledge needed to extract value from a connected proposition. Without these things, it’s near impossible to create value from IoT. However, with the right connectivity in place, it’s possible to harness IoT to enhance health and safety and unlock valuable new revenue streams.

Many moving parts

Vehicles involve a lot of moving parts. And that’s before they’re even on the road. The supply ecosystem for automotive manufacturing is complex. It involves numerous suppliers and parts spread across the world. Each part must reach its destination on time, be it an assembly plant, factory or warehouse. End-users and dealerships expect on-time deliveries of finished vehicles. Any delays can have severe knock-on effects in production. Recent trade wars and covid-19 disruptions have not helped this traditionally complex process.

Transparency in supply chains is the key to improving and maintaining efficiencies. This is where IoT comes in and can drive efficiencies.

Connectivity can be embedded into shipments of parts. Data from embedded sensors can then be gathered and analysed, forming part of an integrated Industrial IoT solution. Stakeholders will then be able to see exactly where all of the required parts are and how long they’ll take to arrive. This insight will help them to make more informed decisions, avoid delays, and ship vehicles to drivers and dealerships more quickly. Customer satisfaction is increased – and business ultimately gets a boost.

With so many components, this process must be as straightforward and efficient for automotive companies as possible. So, integrated IoT solutions must allow easy management of connected end points. This must include routing support, fleet management, track and trace, implementation and reporting, and analytics. Solutions must make data easily accessible and help businesses leverage this to make informed decisions and improve overall processes.

Finally, supply chains are global, so connectivity must be too. It’s no use being able to track parts domestically but losing that insight when they cross borders. Integrating IoT solutions and connectivity can allow organisations to realise value in terms of global supply chain and logistics. Value can also be realised in the next stage: production.

Health and safety: More than seatbelts

Asked to think of health and safety in the automotive industry and most will think of seatbelts and emergency braking systems. IoT can enhance security in both these areas. However, developments in connectivity are also improving things at a far earlier stage in the vehicle lifecycle. Where? In the workplace.

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, there have been over 7,000 injuries and 33 deaths in the motor vehicle repair industry over the last five years. It’s a similar story in manufacturing. A 2017 report from Tesla, for example, found the average number of non-fatal injuries per 100 full-time workers for the motor sector was 6.7 vs 3.3 for all industries. Even Tesla – a pioneer of high-tech – was lagging behind in worker safety, according to the report.

Embedding connectivity in machinery and body-worn suits is a means of reducing workplace injuries. Sensors in moving parts can trigger alarms to warn workers of danger, for instance. Body-worn suits can log data from employees’ movements and lifting behaviour. Feeding this into an integrated IoT solution, businesses can then identify where improvements should be made. Automotive companies (or the solutions they adopt) meanwhile, can use the data gathered to analyse and predict risk. This is also a major plus for insurance companies.

The human benefits aren’t only limited to those working in the production line. Global connectivity is also important when it comes to reliable, consistent connectivity for another group of people: vehicle users.

The driving experience of the future

There has been a lot of media talk (and industry hype) around the likes of Tesla and Uber developing autonomous vehicles. However, the discussion around self-driving cars seems to have died this year. It’s become apparent that we won’t see connected self-driving cars on our roads any time soon. What we are seeing though, is a move toward connected cars that enhance the end-user experience in other ways.

Passengers will be able to use voice-enabled apps to access music and entertainment services via the car dashboard, for example. Cars will also be able to connect to and communicate with their environment via sensors, known as V2X or ‘vehicle to everything’. GPS-enabled route tracking will feed drivers live information on traffic, highlighting road incidents and diversions, for instance.

Telematics meanwhile will allow data on how well a vehicle is performing, how much fuel its using, where it’s located etc, to be gathered and analysed automatically and in real time. This will feed to a centralised platform, and alert the driver (and other stakeholders) to any issues. Transferring data back to the manufacturer in this way opens the door to things like automated optimisation of performance and (when things go wrong) predictive maintenance.

The quality of the in-car consumer experience will be reliant on reliable always-on connectivity. After all, subscribers can’t be distracted by trying to keep their infotainment connected if they’re driving at the same time! As such, ubiquitous connectivity and an ability to seamlessly switch connectivity providers. It’s not only car users who benefit: operators will be able to monetise these services by providing the connectivity that consumers and their vehicles need.

Taking the wheel of opportunity

The automotive sector has its challenges at present. However, this period can also be taken as an opportunity to transform traditional approaches and embrace the IoT – across the complete lifecycle of the vehicle. It is only by taking this holistic view of the IoT in the automotive sector that value will be realised by the greatest range of parties.

The IoT isn’t just a game for tech companies. The right tools and the right partnerships will enable automotive companies to leverage global IoT connectivity. Efficiencies and enhancements in the supply chain, in the workplace, in production, in asset management, and in the vehicles themselves, mean the benefits of a connected ecosystem can be felt by many.

The author is Luc Vidal-Madjar, head of Global IoT Solutions, BICS.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow