Fueling Automotive Innovation With Industry Expertise and ERP

The automotive industry is quickly increasing the share of electric-vehicle manufacturing within its total production. That trend gives rise to new supply chain networks and provides many opportunities to both newly formed and established companies. As the entire automotive industry adopts an innovation mindset—and many expect that it will continue to revolutionize itself with cars powered by hydrogen fuel cells—Sikich consultants are ready to help businesses take advantage of modern technology, like ERP, to realize their goals. This article illustrates what that can look like.

An industry reinvents itself

As the automotive industry transitions towards the manufacturing of electric vehicles, older companies are transforming as quickly as they can. Established vehicle makers aim to capitalize on the growth opportunity of electric cars while keeping their combustion-engine vehicle production going, at least for the near future. Their suppliers are doing their best to keep pace with the market by developing new product lines and services, acquiring smaller companies that make electric vehicle components, competing for a larger share of the traditional market, and other strategies.

Newly created businesses—or new divisions of established companies—enter the market to support the increasing demand for power and battery management technology, drive train components, and parts specific to electric cars. The capabilities of electric vehicles are evolving quickly. Many manufacturers couple their development and production with innovations around autonomous driving and connected systems in vehicles. Many vendors help drive and accelerate the maturation of electric vehicle technologies by providing collaborative engineering design and supporting services to augment the value of their products and create a competitive advantage for themselves and their customers. In doing so, they often instigate new supply chain networks of their own. These complement—and also spur innovation—in the complex, worldwide supply chains that enable automotive manufacturers to deliver gas-powered vehicles to consumers.

Creating a legacy-free, automated factory

For new industry entrants, it’s critical to ramp up quickly to meet demand and run efficient, low-risk operations. Many of them don’t have to rebuild existing production facilities and reengineer processes to accommodate the shift to electric vehicles. Starting from a clean slate allows them to imagine the most effective engineering, production, and distribution, without transforming current workflows, systems, and facilities for a different era. Industry 4.0 and the digital factory of the future still are ambitious goals towards which many traditional manufacturers take incremental steps, following roadmaps that lead them years into the future. For some of the new automotive suppliers, however, they are realistic, near-term objectives.

One of our clients participating in revolutionizing the automotive industry will run largely autonomous manufacturing that makes extensive use of robotics. Running with minimal human intervention, robotic equipment sends data from the edge to product designers, plant engineers, and quality managers anywhere. They use the information to make certain that equipment runs at the best possible performance levels and produces top-quality output within the right specifications. They can remotely make many adjustments to the robotic equipment and the environment of the production facility. They involve roaming experts when the robotic production lines need fine-tuning, maintenance, or upgrades that require a technician to be onsite. Through cloud collaboration tools, they securely offer reports or dashboards based on subsets of the production data to customers and provide them assurance of their quality and timeliness.

A new day for project-based production

This automotive client first approached Sikich because of our experience and success record with implementing ERP and other technologies for project-based manufacturers. One trait this company shares with more traditional automotive makers and suppliers is that it considers each version of its products as a project, tailored to specific vehicle manufacturers and model years. It makes engineering improvements, adjusts components and materials, and reconfigures supporting services, in the iteration from one project to its successor. At the same time, production managers are planning on evolving and refining the company’s robotics systems for continuous improvement and better efficiency, performance, and uptime from one project to the next.

The company is one of the most technologically innovative and sophisticated you can imagine, but it took a misstep in selecting an ERP system. Misdirection from another technology vendor didn’t help, and executives were not fully aware of the differences between the leading ERP solutions. The business chose an ERP product designed for discrete manufacturing, but which lacked the functionality to support the specific operating requirements of project-based production. Avoiding an ERP failure, Sikich helped the company make a fast turnaround and instead deploy Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management. Critical for completing the ERP project successfully was the Sikich HEADSTART methodology and resource, which includes preconfigured, production-ready instances of the ERP system together with best practice-infused project manufacturing processes.

Translating transformational goals into technology infrastructure

Sikich industry, ERP, and data analytics experts worked with the client’s teams to configure the solution for the company’s specific project manufacturing and decision enablement needs. For example, the company’s finance and business analysts will be able to see how investments in research and development translate into revenue during the lifecycle iterations of its products. They can assess the iteration-specific and lifetime profitability of each product and adjust robotic production, review vendor performance, or restructure procurement to create better outcomes.

For innovative, data-aware manufacturers aiming to usher in the future of their industry, Microsoft offers a wealth of solutions to help them operate, compete, and evolve their businesses. One of the company’s initiatives enables automotive manufacturers to innovate driving experiences while running sustainable operations and rely on data insight to navigate the industry’s complexities. The Microsoft Cloud for Manufacturing, currently available in a preview version, puts AI, edge computing, digital twins, and mixed reality to work to enable smart factories, build resilient supply chains, and spur innovation. The Azure cloud for manufacturing already offers data analytics and data-driven solutions for innovating across production, workforce development, customer engagements, inventory planning, and supply chain management. Our project-based manufacturing client was delighted to learn about the Intelligent Robotics efforts in the Microsoft AI Lab, which offer the potential of great benefits for this company.

Here to help

The right ERP solution, properly deployed and configured, can help you run more productive and efficient operations, drive growth, innovate with a competitive advantage, and accelerate the pace towards your most transformational and ambitious goals. Sikich knows how to accomplish this. Serving clients in the manufacturing and other industries for many years, we deliver successful ERP engagements and help clients take control of their supply chains. Validating the trust invested in us by our clients, Sikich was recently named to Microsoft Dynamics 2022/2023 Inner Circle, the fourth time it has received that level of recognition.

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