In 2018, a Tesla Model 3 reviewed by Consumers Reports was panned for its long stopping distance. Upon notice of the publication's negative review, Tesla CEO Elon Musk pushed out an over-the-air update that adjusted the antilock braking system's algorithm, cutting the stopping distance by 19 feet. Nine days later, the publication gave the Model 3 its recommendation.
Keeping communications flowing between the factory and the vehicle throughout a product's life cycle is one of the benefits of digitized manufacturing, sometimes called the Industrial Internet of Things. This network of connected devices that send and receive data is a cornerstone of a broader movement known as Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
What automakers seek when adopting digitization is a "feedback loop" that guides them as they work to continuously improve manufacturing and to customize products to buyers' wants and needs.
"We are no longer building products to just a set of specifications. We're building products with the mindset of the individuals that will be in those products, interacting with those products, and it's just a really exciting time for all of us in the automotive industry," said Mike Mikula, chief engineer of advanced manufacturing at Ford Motor Co.
He was among the panelists at the Automotive News Shift Mobility Forum session called "Consumers and the Digitization of Manufacturing" during CES in January. The panel also featured experts from Ricardo Consulting, Microsoft, embedded-systems company Etas and NetApp, a provider of software and cloud services.
Before you can tap into the information coming from the product and from the production line, you must connect them using sensors and a computerized data-communications link. This "digital thread" is the golden element in digitized manufacturing. Other critical elements are high-integrity cloud storage, software, advanced analytics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and a work force trained to use a digital manufacturing process.
Feeding positive and negative data back to managers helps fine-tune manufacturing and speed product enhancements, some of which can be made on the spot.
That means lower costs, higher consumer satisfaction and greater profit. It also means that the end of the assembly line is no longer the end of production or revenue.