April 26 - 30 | 2021

Speaker Interview

Ian Gardner

Industry 4.0 Solutions Architect

Mercedes Benz

1. Could you tell us more about any projects you are working on currently and/or your area of expertise?

I tend to be working on many things at any one time rather than a single project. One of the more exciting projects that I am currently working on is the UK’s 5G Manufacturing testbed which is a government backed consortium made up of BAE Systems, IBM, AMRC, AQL, MTT, Miralis and the Digital Catapult.

I am part of the technical design authority for this. The project aims to explore how 5G can change and/or improve manufacturing in the UK.

2. Do you see any strategies that the automotive industry can adopt to accelerate recovery post-COVID 19?

The pandemic has considerably changed the way that we live and work and this has had a significant impact on how we use vehicles and work. In the main, roads appear quieter, and we have witnessed the positive impact that this has had on our environment. I am not using my car as much as I would normally and perhaps, I could challenge my cost justification of having such an expensive asset mainly parked, unused on my driveway depreciating.

The circular economy is putting even more focus on the environment. COVID-19 lockdowns have proved in a very short space of time what a reduction in traffic and journeys can have on our environment.

COVID-19 has proved that remote working, access, and support can be effective and has become widely accepted and adopted. Augmented intelligence to assist users and negate the need to visit a dealership or technician is now so important. We already see virtual showrooms becoming more widespread, but manufacturers should explore how this can be used to understand and resolve problems also.

It is possible that a reduced need for travel coupled with the accelerated acceptance, adoption, and development of new technologies that subscription-based models for ownership with grow, where you do not own a vehicle but have access to one when needed. I am sure that the industry is considering how such models could change the design of their vehicles. If and when autonomous, self-driving vehicles prove themselves this will also help this model.

Businesses and consumers need to prepare for new legislative changes that affect the types of vehicles that can be made and purchased – e.g., emissions and fuel types. These seem to change regularly and at pace.

3. How can companies better anticipate risk and increase supply chain resilience post-COVID 19?

Companies need to shorten their supply chains and embed flexibility through a broader distribution and supply chain. The days of long supply chains will be reviewed, challenged, and probably change.

More collaboration with other manufacturers can help reduce costs and resiliency to shocks and surprises. Technology can help with this.

4. How do you think industry can prepare its workforce for the current and upcoming challenges?

Investment needs to be made in the workforce to upskill them to enable more flexibility and multi-tasking. This is important as it can help address new and unpredictable requirement changes with more flexibility. I expect a shift to more modular, flexible manufacturing processes to allow manufacturers to meet increasing changing requirements and higher consumer expectations.

Organisations need to be open to different training models rather than the traditional face to face or lecture-based modes.

Companies need to assess their workforce skills strategies to meet more data-centric needs for the future. This data-focused paradigm forces a need for new and increased governance based on ethics, data ownership and security.

Consumer demands are also influenced by legislation and pressure groups. A good example of this is the effect that the BBC’s Blue Planet series had on consumer behaviours and pressures in a very short period of time.

5. How is consumer demand for automotive shifting, and how will it look by 2030?

Demand is shifting away from fossil fuels at pace, forced by a greater acceptance, incentives, and legislation. Future fuels such as eFuels and hydrogen will start to become more viable and accessible. Solid state battery technology offers great potential to make EV’s more practical and shows great promise. However, the infrastructure changes required to make these advancements mainstream and cost effective will take a considerable amount of effort and investment.

Given that most vehicles are parked up for the majority of their lifetime, it makes sense that new ownership models will be developed and adopted to enable consumers to share or subscribe to vehicles as a service versus the existing model of leasing or purchasing a vehicle. Having a vehicle parked unutilised for 80% of its lifespan seems questionable. Perhaps the automotive industry can change the design of vehicles to better meet new use-cases where vehicle become less personal to individuals. Or aid the adoption of new ownership or use models.

If vehicle utilisation can be increased, it will have a direct impact on volumes of production and ownership. Maybe in 2030 we will see fewer streets clogged up with parked, under-utilised vehicles.

6. What are the main ways in which digitisation is creating opportunities for automotive manufacturing?

Vehicle digitisation is already high. Modern cars are big computers on wheels with many sensors, processors, and integrations. Data is at their core and we see how companies within the automotive ecosystem are utilising this. This relationship between how vehicles are used and how the service providers interact will develop further. Data privacy and ethnics is probably the biggest hurdle and automotive needs to be mindful of that.

Data captured could be expanded significantly to get better insight into our habits and behaviours of drivers to develop new markets and feed this back into vehicle design. The availability of new mobile communications technologies such as 5G means that insight and interventions can be made available in real-time on high volumes of data. This opens up new use models which I am sure disruptors will exploit.

Interested parties such as local authorities, towns and cities and highways agencies will be very interested in how this data can be used to improve services, traffic flow and reduce environmental impact. Any subscription-based model will be highly dependent on this.

Personally, I find that the new interior designs of vehicles look stylish and cool but have become complicated and cumbersome. Perhaps digitisation could feed back use of the systems to improve the usability by better understanding how the interface affects our moods and driving.

It makes sense that planning services for towns and cities utilise vehicle data to better harmonise infrastructure with vehicle use and design. Again, data privacy and ownership concerns could be a hurdle.

From a manufacturing perspective, digitisation can enable more flexibility, feedback, and insight. It offers the potential to Integrate all areas of the ecosystem, which means that behaviours and responses can be far easier to predict and track.

7. How are future technology trends changing patterns of collaboration with other actors (e.g., technology applications, research institutions, government bodies) for automotive innovation?

Driven by data, everything we do is staring to interface and integrate with a wider ecosystem. This changes the landscape and opens up collaboration opportunities with other institutions that are better at these areas. Or, with parties that could utilise this insight for a greater good. That said, the boundaries of the ecosystem become blurred, and consumers are becoming wary of where their data goes and how it is used.

Accelerations in legislative changes, shifting consumer demands and emerging technologies mean that there is a higher dependency to collaborate with others such as technology applications, research institutions, and government bodies. Supply chains are shortening and need to shorten further. Opportunities though data-driven insights offer a chance to be more responsive and flexible to change.

To achieve this though, firms need to share their data which for many, is viewed as a golden asset, or raises concerns over data privacy, ownership, and governance. Technology can offer new approaches such as sharing data via secure shared ledgers such as Blockchain where sharing is confined and controlled within strict boundaries. Additionally, the growth and acceptance of open source in technology has proved that openness can bring huge benefits through innovation.

8. What are the key ways that suppliers can start preparing now for the shift towards EVs?

This is already clearly visible by most auto manufacturers in their rapid move to EV’s and their phasing out of traditional combustion-based motors. Disruptors, such as Tesla have raised the bar and proven the market. Traditional manufacturers are now exploiting this by utilising their existing engineering know-how in this space. I am assuming that as demand increases that there will be enough demand for many players but, I am sure that there will be casualties with the demise of some well-known brands.

But, despite the incentives and legislative changes forcing the move away from traditional fossil fuels-based engines. There are still many barriers to overcome such as range, lifespan, charge times and infrastructure. Auto manufacturers and governments are busy investing in ways to address this. A good example is with solid state batteries which promise quicker charging, longer lifespans, and much longer range.

EV’s requiring fewer and different components/parts. Unless they change, suppliers that specialise in traditional combustion focused products face redundancy. They should review and analyse where their strengths and expertise could be repurposed or diversify into other products or services for the next generation of EV’s. This will probably require some ingenuity and innovation.

9. Why are second-life battery solutions important for electric vehicle manufacturers?

This is really important and offers a great way to repurpose and extend the lifespan of vehicle batteries. Unless EV batteries can be effectively recycled, repurposed, or repaired, they will become a new enemy to the environment.

The great thing about second-life battery solutions is not only giving used EV batteries a second life, but it also makes other green energies such as solar and wind energy more effective and viable. Win-win.

10. What are some of the enduring challenges facing women in the automotive industry? How are companies working towards finding solutions?

This is really complicated. I think certain industries such as technology and engineering struggle to recruit the volume of female employees that they need. Many firms incentivise to choose to entice and recruit more women to keep the balance. This is needed, but I am certain that most women would not want to believe that they are employed as tokens to meet statistics, but this shows how complicated this is. The question for me is why certain professions and industries seem to attract particular genders.

Old barriers such as culture, physical demands and flexibility are disappearing. The types of work in the automotive industry are also changing from older traditional models to those that women may, hopefully seek or prefer. Perhaps women are not aware of this and this needs to be broadcast more. I also think that the successes of women in this sector should be highlighted and publicised even more.

In the long-term, I hope that this will create more acceptance and role models to address the balance. It is clear that there is a marked shift with increasing numbers of women visible in the workforce. But maybe, the fact that the few women in engineering stand out so much shows that the distribution is still not good enough.

Retaining women in these roles can be even more complicated than recruiting them. Firms need to better understand and address why many females do not stay in the industry.

Recruiting women is only part of the problem. A big challenge I see is the lack of interest at university or even before, at secondary school. Firms are actively engaging with schools to generate interest which I hope will lead to more appeal for the future. But, if universities are struggling to get enough female applications into engineering and technology focused subjects, firms will never have the resource pools available to recruit into a dynamic and exciting career.

 Aleksander Rzepecki