What will the IT revolution change? Virtually, everything
Sounds like some New Age workout scheme. But Ralph Szygenda says it's the key to the factory of the future.
Szygenda, General Motors' chief information officer, says advances in information technology will turn assembly plants into paragons of flexibility, "pretty much producing any vehicle in any plant."
GM will build different types of vehicles in one plant and have the ability to change the vehicle mix almost overnight, says GM's top IT executive.
Inbound material will be redirected instantly as GM changes the product mix, he says.
That will require sophisticated sensor technology in plants to sense changes automatically. GM and suppliers will be connected like never before, resulting in better inventory control, he says.
That's just one way the IT revolution will change life at GM. Dealers, shoppers and suppliers also will feel the impact.
GM assembly plants and suppliers' factories will deliver data around the clock, and many decisions will be automated. GM and its suppliers will have complete visibility into the manufacturing process, Szygenda says, "meaning daily I will see the same thing they will see."
Data sharing among automakers, suppliers, dealers and customers will revolutionize the auto industry in much the same way the World Wide Web revolutionized home computers.
"You're going to have the vehicle, home, office and mobile devices all integrated together sharing the same databases," Szygenda concludes.
New way to shop
The IT revolution will change car shopping, too.
Let's say, 20 years from now, that you want to test drive that GM fuel cell-powered car that you've had your eye on, but you don't feel like stopping at your local Chevy dealer.
No problem. Just log into a digital dealership showroom and you can virtually test drive that Chevy on any road surface and in any weather condition.
"It might be July and you are driving on ice, and you could see how that vehicle performs," Szygenda says.
This won't be a glorified version of Grand Theft Auto, but an extension of sophisticated simulation software that GM uses in product development, he says.
This vehicle simulation technology GM uses today in its design studios will find its way into dealerships. Sales staff will allow consumers to use it from their homes or at public locations such as malls, Szygenda says.
Shoppers will choose their options and see how those options affect the vehicle's performance. To make this happen, customers, dealers, suppliers and automakers will be linked by their computer networks.
The service department will change, too.
Future vehicles will have three times today's computing power, becoming smart enough to monitor their own health. They will predict many problems before they occur and diagnose much of the trouble that does surface.
Today there are about 35 microprocessors on a vehicle, with 1 million lines of code. In two decades or so there may be 100 processors with 10 million lines of code, he says.
With that computing power, vehicles will be able to make "soft fixes" before even getting to the dealership service bays. For example, if a processor goes bad, the car could switch over automatically to a redundant processor and notify the dealership of the problem.