Automotive manufacturing, like most other industries, is becoming highly autonomous. Intelligent systems are increasingly being used to increase output with a greater degree of accuracy. What makes these intelligent systems so “intelligent” is that they have the capacity for learning. 

These systems use data and can interact with the manufacturing process. This sort of software-centric manufacturing centres on pattern recognition, data analysis and algorithms to revolutionise manufacturing. As a leading supplier of car parts to the automotive industry, Formex understands the benefits that come from the use of intelligent systems in component manufacturing. 

Intelligent systems connect consumers, products and companies. The manufacturing business model is taking rapid strides towards favouring the use of intelligence systems at all levels of the value chain. We believe that South African businesses should be looking towards technology to secure their place among the top global players in the industry. 

Co-bot colleagues, self-diagnostic computer systems that can instantly reprogram automated production lines, and remote operational management via cloud-based apps, are just a few examples of how intelligent systems are already transporting manufacturing into Industry 4.0. These technologies will allow South Africa to secure its place as one of the world’s leading manufacturing countries.

Will intelligent systems become the main manufacturing business model?

Manufacturing with intelligent systems

Intelligent manufacturing systems (IMS) integrate the abilities of humans and machines. They are used to streamline the manufacturing process by gathering inputs and then transforming that information into the desired output. This leads to an optimisation of manufacturing resources, reduces waste and adds value to the business. 

Manufacturers are using IMS to evolve the industry and adapt to ever-growing consumer demands. Factory automation is facilitated by the use of technologically-advanced machines. The systems can perceive and respond to their environment, interacting with human users and creating a dynamic relationship between humans and machines. The advent of IMS was spurred on by the growth in processing power, memory capacity and algorithmic advances. 

With intelligent systems, the manufacturing business model becomes more flexible. Managers can use the system to analyse existing processes, identify issues and collect information to formulate better processes. Learning from past production data helps the system to understand a range of complex variables. These systems help to forecast production outcomes and provide valuable information about what is happening in other parts of the production chain. 

Will intelligent systems become the main manufacturing business model?

The evolution of manufacturing

The first generation of digital manufacturing came when computers entered mainstream production. Since the 1980s, computers have been used to make production plans and design outputs. Digital simulations of factory layout and labour requirements could be easily produced. Product design using machines helps to improve the end quality. There was a reduction in the time needed for manufacturing as well as reduced costs. 

Next came the internet; computers plus the internet cleared the way for the second generation of intelligent manufacturing. Digitally networked manufacturing uses the internet in the production process. The internet connects data, ideas and processes. It allows for collaborative manufacturing and R&D with easy user interaction. 

After the recent development of artificial intelligence (AI), we’re now into the next generation of manufacturing. The integration of AI into the computer-plus-internet formula has completely revolutionised the production process once again. There is no need for human intervention in the design of new processes, the design of products, or the formulation of the business model. This has reduced the time needed for innovation and production. Each of these three generations has built on from each other and resulted in smart manufacturing. 

Will intelligent systems become the main manufacturing business model?

Intelligent systems in the automotive business 

The automotive industry has not been exempt from the changes in the manufacturing model. AI has steadily been integrated into the sector over the past few years. Intelligent systems only had a 5% to 10% penetration in 2015, but this has grown to about 20% or 30% in the current manufacturing model. This is estimated to rise to 95% by 2030. 

AI infiltrates all layers of the automotive value chain. From design, supply chain, production and post-production, AI has been incorporated already. AI-powered robots in manufacturing are able to operate the production line, which reduces the need for human capital. Automotive companies around the world are implementing AI in a number of interesting ways. 

Hyundai introduced AI-powered wearable robots in a North American factory in 2018. These robotic exoskeletons are worn by workers to decrease the use of muscles in their waist and lower bodies. Reducing fatigue for factory floor workers is a key benefit of this sort of technology. 

Similarly, OTTO Motors incorporated an AI material handling system into their manufacturing plants. Vehicles using AI technology can navigate themselves autonomously around the factory using self-learning technology. This helps to improve production capacity and reduces workplace accidents. 

Formex offerings include welded door frames and automotive components

Challenges with intelligence systems

Intelligent systems require high-speed internet and sufficient computer memory in order to work properly. Slow computing is a major hindrance to AI. Processing can be very slow if the system doesn’t have the necessary RAM. Very large scale manufacturing requires powerful computers and data connections. 

As intelligent as they are, computers do not have the same perception capacities as humans. Changeable environments can cause big problems for sensors. Inaccurate data might be gathered, resulting in inappropriate tasks. Noise, changing lighting or even adverse weather conditions can affect computer sensors. 

Going from analogue to digital involves rendering the 3D world into a 2D interpretation. Lots of information can get lost in the process. The world is a dynamic place and AI needs to be intelligent enough to be able to make real-time micro-adjustments in order to function correctly. 

South African manufacturing businesses need to combat a range of limitations if they are to transform into smart manufacturing. The cost of implementation is currently very high and often requires a few weeks of factory closures while renovations take place. While intelligence systems reduce human error, they also result in job losses. In an economy that already faces extreme unemployment statistics, this is not ideal. 

If intelligence systems are to become the predominant manufacturing business model, there is a responsibility for relevant training, as well as greater transparency and skills sharing. At Formex, we believe that smart manufacturing is certainly the future of manufacturing, with faster production times and lower costs, but essential to work in conjunction with an upskilled, motivated and dedicated workforce which is the essence of Formex. Contact us for more information on our products.

Formex Industries is a metal forming and assembly company that supplies a variety of complex products to the local automotive industry and the export market. The company is based in the Nelson Mandela Bay metropole, South Africa’s foremost region for automotive manufacturing and export.

Formex is a supplier with 69% black ownership, of which 37% are black women. The company is owned by Deneb Investments Limited – a subsidiary of Hosken Consolidated Investments Limited (HCI) – one of South Africa’s biggest true B-BBEE companies listed on the Johannesburg Stock Exchange (JSE).

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