New Delhi: The speed and scale of COVID-19 social and economic fallout are quickly materializing in concerns about the future recovery of the OEMs operations. The inevitable impact of the lockdown imposed to contain COVID-19 followed by restricted phase-wise resumption is leading to potential adjustments in the working culture of certain departments in automotive companies, especially engineering, designing, and technology deployment.
The sheer pervasiveness and complexity of technology make it hard for engineers at the cutting edge of R&D to operate from remote locations because technical development needs close discussion but unprecedented times call for unprecedented innovations.
Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), some parts of the work can be monitored virtually and video conferencing can be used to give advice, the companies still have to rely on physical testing and validation for ensuring the quality of the output.
At the country’s largest carmaker Maruti Suzuki India (MSI), the product and engineering team relies on 50 percent virtual validation and 50 percent physical validation to meet the quality standards, informed Purushottam Panda, Executive Director, PowerTrain, MSI at ETAuto CXO Roundtable.
Panda underlined, “It’s a challenging time amidst which the digitised development process provides an opportunity as engineers are gaining valuable insights into more efficient and innovative manufacturing. At the same time, we want to make sure that the quality of the product and the service that we offer matches the requirements of the customer for which physical testing is required.”
Companies have also been deploying rotating work shifts and schedules for engineers so that they can operate while adhering to 30 percent manpower rule and maintaining social distancing. Engineers and tech guys can innovate and brainstorm while at home and then come to their workplace for assessing the practical functionalities.
The product and engineering team rely on 50 percent virtual validation and 50 percent physical validation to meet the quality standards.Purushottam Panda, ED, PowerTrain, MSI
Meanwhile, MG Motor India has been leveraging its global engineering bases including the R&D centers in Asia, UK and India to develop its product programs, said Gaurav Gupta, Chief Commercial Officer of the Company told ETAuto.
The Chief of two-wheeler major Hero Motocorp Pawan Munjal in a digital discussion had informed that people have already come back in CIT Jaipur, Hero’s Global Centre for innovation and technology. Munjal said, “We have already started working on the development, whether its new models, the engineering changes or modifications while adhering to the social distancing norms.”
Giving an insight into the remote design & development approaches during and post COVID-19 crisis, Murali Lakshminarasimhan, Head – Presales, Siemens Digital Industries Software India highlighted that virtual manufacturing needs to be properly tracked and tested which requires a robust digital setup.
Lakshminarasimhan elaborated, “The process is based on the model base system, meaning right from front-loading when the entire program is conceived, every stakeholder in the process needs to be kept in the chain. A model-based system where you frontload the process and connect every network, design area links up to the process. Product traceability is the key as far as the program is concerned.”
The Siemens presales head feels deploying IoT for product development makes business sense, even in the Covid-free scenario. There are ways of virtually validating and controlling the assembly costs and the process keeps evolving. Also, virtual pilot production tests can enrich the final design, bringing in quality.
Many global automakers have been turning to remote tools to help their engineering and design teams to stay occupied as well. Ford engineers, for example, are using virtual-reality headsets at home for collaborative design sessions.
At Mercedes’s six research and development locations in North America, hardware and software prototypes for new interaction concepts for the company’s next-generation MBUX infotainment system are being used to maintain the flow of the work.
However, to get that kind of ecosystem and connectivity in India is a bit difficult, pointed Chulanga Perera, Chief Information Officer, Daimler India Commercial Vehicles Pvt Ltd because the infrastructure and ecosystem have to match. Perera emphasised, “At Daimler, we have the technologies, but we also need to have the infrastructure.”
The company is looking at incorporating more AGVs (Automatic Guided Vehicles) in its production line to ensure productivity in the absence of manpower.
While digital product development and inspecting them in virtual reality isn’t new for automakers, the shelter-in-place situation across most parts of the world has made the technology all the more important and the companies will have to look into innovating their practices to use it to their best advantage.