Automotive production towards 2030, the path towards digitalization

Type de publication:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2017)


The increasing demand for greener technologies, higher production with fewer materials, less energy and less waste has increasingly push the manufacturing sector towards changes in its production system. Under this scheme the so-called industry 4.0 has taken major relevance, with robotics, artificial intelligence and 3D printing as some of the main tasks taken up by this framework. In Europe, the European Economic Recovery Plan launched a public-private partnership (PPP) called Factories of the Future (FoF) in 2008 and which involves top industrial firms and research institutions across Europe (European Commission 2010). Special emphasis of this partnership is being put on robotics and on the automation of production.
The automobile industry is one of the main actors entering this search for adopting a manufacturing framework that enables competition in terms of technological upgrading, collaboration, process innovations rather than on costs of production, labor rates and other traditional resources. In the automotive industry, the need to improve, increase and expand services to the consumer has significantly increased, bringing non-automotive industries to partner with the industry. Industry 4.0 brings forward the advances in manufacturing to help the industry to focus on technology, collaboration and processes. This is particularly the case when talking about Cloud computing, cyber security and Big Data analytics.
Digitalization and networking are brought as key elements under Industry 4.0 in shorting the ‘reaching the market’ cycle, as well as the development of processes, including the digitalization of entire plants. The interlinking of planning processes, efficient production, storage distribution and logistics, including in-house software, has become a vital factor.
All these investments on manufacturing will have a strong impact not only on third (or older) generations of plants, but also in jobs and capability requirements for new hires. The high cost of labor in Europe is one of the factors behind the mobilization of manufacturing facilities outside the EU. Therefore, under these conditions, automation is a key element seeking to fostering manufacturing growth in Europe (euRobotics 2013). All the expected changes, the introduction of advanced robotics in manufacturing, artificial intelligence and 3D printing will have a serious and disruptive impact on jobs the way we know them. The UK Government Office for Science report on production by 2050 states its expectations on important challenges and threats to current labor life and proposes measurements (including educational reforms) to build the necessary capability (institutional and technological) to face the coming changes (Foresight 2013). In the same line of research, Frey and Osborne (2013) present an empirical exercise on American sectoral employment data to measure the computerization capacity of 702 existing job classifications. The results of the study show that about 47% of US jobs are candidates for such computerization within the next 10 or 20 years. Based on Frey and Osborne (2013) and using the ILO data for the 2012 EU Labor Force, Bowles (2014) repeated the exercise for Europe. His results find a similar pattern as that of Frey and Osborne (2013), concluding that northern Europe (e.g., Sweden, UK, Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany) have similar risks of the computerization of jobs, while countries in the South, where low-skills and low-wages jobs are more prevalent, present a much higher risk (although the timing of the substitution or adoption of new technologies may be slower).
The speed of the substitution of jobs and skills remains to be seen and it is not the focus of study of this research. However, the qualification of jobs it is a key element in the speed in which the redesign of production into automation and robotization expand in the manufacturing activity. The strengthened and further development of new sectors such as robotics and machine tools are being, creating both employment opportunities and technological ownership through well-established research agendas. This will not only help the EU to achieve the environmental societal goals established within H2020, but also provide Europe with the opportunity to regain worldwide participation in high-tech manufacturing.
This research aims to add to the theoretical discussion on the analysis of digitalization, automation and robotization, as proxys for I4.0, influence the architecture of the automotive industry through the inclusion of non-automotive players, co-integration, data ownersip, among other factors. The paper also explores the influence of these I4.0 elements in the future mobility scenarios, such as the one provided by autonomous vehicles.
The research concludes with a brief note on the existing absorptive capacity to adapt to this fast evolving, shifting and moving technological frontier and the implications of its adoption in the South.

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