Technology Interwoven with the Fabric of Cars

James Seevers, CIO & GM, Toyoda Gosei

Cars! To many people, the word conjures memories of freedom, raw power, and the first purchase we were able to afford as we started off on our own life, separate from our parents. Technology was not something we were concerned with.

Fast forward to the present - technology has become interwoven with the very fabric of cars. No longer is the consumer satisfied with the mere notion of travelling somewhere; now each person behind the wheel of a car desires to have any and all amenities with them as they cruise throughout the day. This need for the luxuries, comfort and hi-tech environments has created a need for cars and technology to be so interwoven one can no longer be seen as separate from the other.

Cars are expected to be fuel efficient, yet powerful; full of the very latest in electronics, yet simple to operate. Standard comforts that heightens the appeal to the consumer, yet does not increase the cost. This goal is the pinnacle towards which each car manufacturer is striving to reach.

Technology integrated into the very fabric of the car has become the method of choice for answering the clarion call of the consumer’s desire for price, comfort and ease of driving. Today, technology is being used in every process of the automotive industry. From the supplier to the car maker, technology is being used to streamline process, lower costs throughout the supply chain, and reduce time to market in every measurable way.

An example of the use of technology in the automotive process can be seen in today’s Supply Chain Process. Prior to the latest wave of technology in the automotive world, material was largely handled in a highly manual process. Obviously, this process came with the associated costs incurred with a largely manual labor force required to order material (by phone, email or sometimes if fortunate enough, via EDI), and then to manually process the material once received. The very act of receiving was itself a lengthy process involving verification of material; manifest manually compared to Purchase Order; material placed into the warehouse for later consumption based on (usually) a known physical map.

Today’s process is now highly refined and has technology imbedded in every facet. Supply Chain Monitoring and Processing, in many companies uses the Web to deliver and process the same information as which used to be accomplished by a multitude of planners, warehousemen, purchasing agents and accountants. 

Orders are placed in a highly secured Web Portal, often pulled (created) from Purchasing companies’ ERP system. The Supplier of the raw material will then securely access this data from anywhere in the world - data including not only the orders; it also generally contains the exact label format and information to be placed onto each box and/or skid to be shipped to the ordering company. This can have the effect of reducing late, missing, or inaccurate orders as the dependency upon manual actions can largely be replaced by technology.

On the receiving side, technology has also reduced the physical efforts previously used to receive material. RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) is often now used to reduce the labor required; eliminating the manual “3-way-match” and placing the material in a logical, planned location in the warehouse based on size, time-to-use, and frequency of use. RFID is now routinely used in the supplier side of the automotive business as well as in numerous other areas of the industry. This technology, routinely used in Walmart’s around the world, is being adapted more and more by the automotive industry.

RFID has replaced the need for manual scanning of 1D or 2D barcodes, as well as “counting” boxes/parts received in a near instant of time, ensuring accurate counts and payments of material received. Companies now have highly accurate, automated logs of all material received as well as the exact instant the material crossed the warehouse dock doors.

This is but a small snapshot of the technology improvement found throughout the automotive process. More and more, technology improves the car experience, while also improving the overall process benefitting the supplier, manufacturer and the consumers who enjoy the benefit cars of today’s high quality, fuel efficient and luxuriantly appointed high tech cars.