Industry Director for Manufacturing,

Autonomous vehicles are gaining traction, with high-profile companies trialing them to deliver products and groceries to consumers within a regional radius. But most of these AV projects represent limited operations in select locations. How can AVs reach critical mass?

In this article, Andrew Burton, Industry Director for Manufacturing, IFS, explains how manufacturers can bring new, real-world value to AVs. This means maximizing the potential of AVs at every stage—from design to manufacturing and ongoing operations.

Autonomous vehicles are primed for growth and adoption, and the U.S. is leading the charge when it comes to trialing innovative use cases for product and services delivery, as well as government initiatives to create the infrastructure required to support widespread AV operations.

Retailers, eCommerce providers and automotive manufacturers alike are working on their own initiatives or partnering up to roll out test cases for AV deliveries—but there is more to be done to drive adoption at scale.

Manufacturers have a vital role to play in the AV ecosystem—from design and engineering to production and ongoing operations. But manufacturing a next-gen asset needs next-gen software and tech support too.

Design: Opportunity to build in sustainability and minimize complexity

Autonomous vehicles are not designed for general purpose transport, but rather for specific functions and, therefore, have design features to perform specific tasks. This means AVs can be designed to be more streamlined and energy efficient than conventional automobiles. Research suggests the practice of “right-sizing” could cut vehicle energy consumption by 50%, which would greatly improve the current energy crisis.

Track product data – from design up

Effective Product Data Management (PDM) software is crucial for clear, effective and flawless design. Within a PDM system, all data and information relating to the product is stored in one place, integrating Computer-aided Design (CAD) with Bill of Materials (BOM) and data management with workflow management. The invaluable information sharing capability of PDM streamlines design processes by removing bottle necks.

Modularization for build and repair simplicity

Modularization is a key component of the AV design phase. Modularization, a design concept where products are broken down into a series of standardized modules that can easily be assembled and dissembled, allows individual parts to be easily repaired. This is particularly important for AVs containing many interconnected layers of hard and soft technology that complicate assembly and repairs.

As well as enhancing speed to manufacture, modularization also aids sustainability by prolonging the overall lifespan of the vehicle, as well as its efficiency by reducing vehicle service times and minimizing operational disruption.

Manufacturing: New tech helps maximize efficiency

During the manufacturing phase, proper management of materials and resources is essential. Powerful BOM management software allows businesses to accurately price and order materials required for manufacturing AVs, to keep projects on time and on budget. Not only does accurate BOM lead to a reduction in lead times and delays, but it also fosters greater sustainability as efficient material procurement creates less waste. This is essential for a closed-loop supply chain (CLSC) which ensures that the manufacturing of autonomous vehicles is more efficient, cost-effective and sustainable.

Different manufacturing methods and materials can be used in the production of AVs vs. standard automobiles. Driverless vehicles can be manufactured without the typical safety features of regular vehicles, such as air bags, side view mirrors, etc. and can be made from innovative, lightweight materials instead of heavier materials that would be required for driver safety. With U.S. automobiles having substantially increased in weight over the past three decades, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates removing safety features can make AVs up to 75% lighter than conventional automobiles, improving energy efficiency and reducing manufacturing times.

Built to last – manufacturing for a longer lifecycle

Autonomous vehicles should be manufactured with ongoing servitization in mind. The idea of “Transport as a Service” means the AV asset will likely remain the property of the AV organization during its lifecycle. A Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) approach to manufacturing is crucial to attain optimal sustainability and efficiency during the overall lifecycle of an asset. PLM will ensure the continuous use of a product over a longer period of time, while simultaneously reducing waste and maximizing resource utility.

Ongoing operations: Continual service requires constant monitoring

The AV business will be most effective operating in a shared vehicle model, rather than private car ownership. While this “Transport as a Service” model will require AV organizations to provide continual services, it will result in long-term profitability through increased revenue streams, reduced waste and asset longevity.

Get dynamic as modularization comes full circle

“Transport as a Service” will require the use of advanced route scheduling and cloud communication tools to ensure efficient operation of AV fleets. Advanced route optimization can be used to monitor service demand and direct the supply of AVs to where demand is greatest or onto the route that is the most efficient from a fuel and cost saving perspective. Under current private car ownership models, the average car sits idle for 95% of the time. “Transport as a Service” ensures AVs will be in constant use through dynamic route scheduling, and the ease of repair and servicing means that the downtime for AVs will be significantly less than traditional vehicles.

When AVs come to the end of their lifecycle, AV organizations, through modularization, can retrieve parts or components to reuse or remanufacture into new products. This ensures that organizations get the most out of the resources and funds they invest into an AV asset.

AVs are here to stay – manufacturing strategies need to match up

New manufacturing principles and advanced technologies can pave the way to widespread AV adoption. Product data management, modularization, lifecycle management and the emergence of a “Transport as a Service” model are just some of the key considerations for AV manufacturers. They will play a key role in shaping the future of a growing area of automotive manufacturing and society.