Digital Manufacturing: Navigating a New Reality
December 7, 2021
By Bloomberg Live
A virtual roundtable brought together executive, financial, operating and innovation officers who are clearly all innovators to talk about navigating fast-moving technology and market trends while weathering pandemic impacts. They painted a picture of an exciting time in history of automated vehicles becoming mainstream, discussing their perspectives as component and software producers, and the “opportunities and threats” that drive innovation.
- Lisa Åbom, Chief Executive Officer, Nira Dynamics
- Jim Barnhart, Chief Operating Officer, Velodyne Lidar
- Anna Brunelle, Chief Financial Officer, Ouster
- Omer David Keilaf, CEO and Co-Founder, Innoviz Technologies
- Marta Ostroumoff, Chief Financial Officer, Oxbotica
- David Roberts, Chief Innovation Officer, Indiana Economic Development Corporation
- Katja Ziegler, Chief Financial Officer, IAV Automotive Engineering
Moderator: Kevin Tynan, Senior Automotive Analyst and Global Director of Automotive Research, Bloomberg Intelligence
Click here to view the video of the full discussion.
David Roberts, Chief Innovation Officer, Indiana Economic Development Corporation, opened the conversation by revealing his background in lithium ion battery manufacturing, hybrid drivetrains for heavy equipment and energy technology solutions. He spoke about Indiana’s intense history in manufacturing and a
a public-private non-profit lab, Emerging Manufacturing Collaboration Center, set to open in early 2022. Partners are GE Additive and AWS Industrial IoT. The lab will explore the future of autonomous transportation, with autonomous race cars on site and competing in the Indie Autonomous Challenge.
Anna Brunelle, Chief Financial Officer, Ouster, offered thoughts on the autonomy revolution, where we are now and why safety, efficiency and accessibility will be solved by Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR). Ouster sends sensors to about 600 customers in 50 countries, in automotive, industrial, robotics and smart infrastructure industries, from mining to pizza delivery vehicles, that gather data to gain insights. “We think that digital LiDAR will be as ubiquitous as digital cameras are today,” Brunelle said.
Omer David Keilaf, CEO and Co-Founder, Innoviz Technologies, struggles with the accepted idea that there is a toll to be paid, to the tune of 1.3 million motor vehicle accident deaths per year. He wonders why there is not the same urgency to save lives as there was with a Covid-19 solution, as Innoviz moves forward to speed the solution with LiDAR in several BMW series.
Companies like Nira Dynamics develop software that collects data from vehicles on the road, currently from about a million vehicles in the U.S. and Europe, said Lisa Åbom, Chief Executive Officer. On a phone app, “you can get the information from someone who was driving the road 20 seconds before you that will tell you the road situation ahead of you.”
Marta Ostroumoff, Chief Financial Officer, Oxbotica, an AV software developer that uses LiDAR, radar and laser, also spoke about how AVs learn from one another, how they can improve safety and efficiency in delivery fleets and how safety can be standardized, without high costs, around the world.
Some of the issues that may be holding AV back are lack of government subsidies to help carmakers get to a profit stage and even concerns about privacy, as was pointed out by Jim Barnhart, Chief Operating Officer, Velodyne Lidar, who noted that LiDAR is not a camera-based technology.
EVs are pushing automotive technology in ways that internal combustion engines have not, Abom said, but there was a consensus that AVs can advance quickly without them. It is not reliant on any vehicle design or technology, needs no extra power and can be designed in or retrofitted. Roberts sees it as more of a business model, with EV makers “baking that investment into the model of the products they are selling.” Keilaf noted that the program planned for BMW will be used “across the seven series, the five series and the IEX, some of them are combustion and some of them are electric, the platform is agnostic.”
Brunelle offered details about Ouster customers who are adopting the technology now, including artificial intelligence (AI) for robo-tracking. Amazon, for instance, is buying LiDAR sensors for more than 1,000 IC trucks, expecting benefits that include increased fuel efficiency of up to 10%.
Asked about how Indiana and other states can win manufacturing contracts in an industry whose footprint is shrinking, Roberts spoke about innovation being a balance between opportunities and threats and the need to be aware of industry trends. He also put some of the onus on the federal government, the nation’s largest consumer, to play a role on the buy side. “If the U.S. government makes decisions to purchase electric vehicles or autonomous vehicles, or ADAS-enabled vehicles, that can dictate a lot more of how the industry goes much more quickly than any sort of legislative stimulus package. And that’s a policy decision,” Roberts said.
Katja Ziegler, Chief Financial Officer, IAV Automotive Engineering, spoke about industry 4.0 and is continuously rethinking its business model over 40 years to stay on top of emerging technologies. IAV is currently transitioning from a development partner to a tech solution provider. “Today, at least 70% of our total workforce is engaged with autonomous driving development and software solutions, electric mobility and alternative drives,” Ziegler said. That has required transformation of every company aspect, including its workers and leadership. “Industry 4.0 is, for me, not only about concrete solutions, but also a holistic approach and the question: how is a huge company like ours driving transformation in those circumstances?”
On smaller workforce numbers, Barnhart said that’s a certainty, but, just as Brunelle spoke about the importance of STEM training, automation will still require human oversight. And while automation streamlines, there is still room for intuitive minds at the macro level, such as how an uncertain post-pandemic supply chain requires a rethink of JIT (just-in-time) parts inventories, moving to “just-in-case” supplies. At the same time, there is evidence of price-gouging and inflated demand due to manufacturers “wanting to get their place in the queue” to assure materials flow.
Ziegler talked about growth strategy, which needs to be followed by financial strategy and consideration of companies as part of the supply chain, especially during and after a crisis. Brunelle added that with build plans accelerating annually by as much as fourfold, working closely with customers on their plans is essential, and yet, “There is still significant risk when you’re deciding on what to order for 2023 today in an emerging growth market,” adding that the risk is lowered significantly when products have the underpinning of digital technology platform.
Automation allowed the ability to scale during the pandemic, even with restricted travel, personnel shortages and supply chain woes, according to Keilaf. “The fact that you have a manufacturing process which is very simple and fully automated, and actually very cheap to reproduce, gives us the ability to ramp up the production line anywhere we want.”
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