“When wireless (read digitalisation) is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, we shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance.”
– Nikola Tesla, 1926
It was the early 20th century when automobiles started becoming a critical part of human society replacing all other modes of transportation. The market was booming and starting with Duryea in 1895, there were at least 1900 different companies in America itself, producing over 3,000 makes of American automobiles. Due to these large numbers of automobile manufacturers who all were trying hands-on a new technology which was at a very nascent stage in those times and any dissatisfied customer always resulted in the loss of business for any manufacturer in no time. It was at this moment the need for service became an important factor for their survival.
And it was at this point that the Model T was introduced by Ford in 1906, who has summarised by his philosophy of selling the Ford Vehicles in his book “My Life & Work”, wherein he states very clearly, “A man who bought one of our cars was in my opinion entitled to continuous use of that car, and therefore if he had a breakdown of any kind it was our duty to see that his machine was put into shape again at the earliest possible moment. In the success of the Ford car, the early provision of service was an outstanding element. Most of the expensive cars of that period were ill-provided with service stations. If your car broke down you had to depend on the local repair man – when you were entitled to depend upon the manufacturer. If the local repair man were a forehanded sort of a person, keeping on hand a good stock of parts (although on many of the cars the parts were not interchangeable), the owner was lucky. But if the repair man were a shiftless person, with adequate knowledge of automobiles and an inordinate desire to make a good thing out of every car that came into his place for repairs, then even a slight breakdown meant weeks of laying up and a whopping big repair bill that had to be paid before the car could be taken away. The repair men were for a time the largest menace to the automobile industry. Even as late as 1910 and 1911 the owner of an automobile was regarded as essentially a rich man whose money ought to be taken away from him. We met that situation squarely and at the very beginning. We would not have our distribution blocked by stupid, greedy men.”
This philosophical innovation of Ford provisioned for service in their sales following the basic principle to “put into shape again at the earliest possible moment” and “early provision of service” as well as his other technological innovations like “moving assembly line” (to mass produce) and “interchangeability of parts” (to ease service & repair) made Model T a favourite of the masses which had led to Ford’s outstanding success in the early 1900s. Model T, in real terms, was an ‘‘universal car’’, which was less expensive than any other automobile on the roads, in those times, it was also lighter, durable, as well as simpler to maintain and repair. Apart for easy to manufacture design, it was also user-friendly, as known in today’s terms. Almost anyone could drive and repair the Model T car without a chauffeur or mechanic. These were some of the achievements which laid the groundwork for the revolutionary change in direction for the entire motor-vehicle industry including repairing & service.
For almost a century, the ICEVs dominated the mobility market and with times as their number increased exponentially, the supporting mechanical service & repairing setups also grew up. Yet they always remained primarily a mechanical support system meant to support mechanical machines, since the majority of these automobiles were ICEVs. For a long, these service and repair setups were dependent only on the mechanical skill sets of their employees & were driven by oil & grease covered technicians.
However, things started to change when in 1947, an invention in a non-related field of happened and that was invention of the very first transistor and then later the development of MOSFET in 1959. This lead to miniaturisation of electronics and it went on to get mass-produced for a wide range of applications. Automobiles could also not remain untouched by them and slowly more & more power chips started getting integrated with the functioning of ICEVs for monitoring, sensing, controlling & improving their performances as well as providing many other functional support services like multimedia connectivity, GPS tracking, remote accessing & self-diagnostics, etc. Also, considering the harmful impacts of emissions from ICEVs which were burning fossil fuel, a major shift in the mobility world started taking shape in late 20th century, and that was the rise of EVs. The recent spectacular growth in the EV market has also caused a major transformation in the automobile service & repair industry which is also changing gears to match this technological shift from ICEVs to EVs (CAEVs in future), since the moving parts along are getting reduced tremendously (eg: there are about 20 moving parts in an electric engine, compared to nearly 2,000 in an ICEV). Apart from conventional ICEV & EVs, there are also other types of automobiles running on different technologies such as fuel cell, hybrid technology, as well as CNG/Bio Diesel (primarily ICEVs) which are fighting for their acceptance & all these vehicles need a different kind of service & repair support setup.
With such complexities in the mobility world as well as their large numbers involved (~82 mln units were sold in 2022 and ~90 mln units are expected to be sold in 2023, globally) as well as their large geographical reach, today’s service & repair sector of the automotive world has also faced many challenges over the time. These challenges have led to the evolution of present day service & repair networks into a complex network of dealerships, with sophisticated logistics, as well as integrated onsite and offsite services involving advanced repairing technologies.
Many recent technological evolutions, although not related to the automobile industry, have also contributed in transforming the present day automotive business and its ownership models. The rise of the internet, IoT & IIoT, and related new technologies, have also impacted the automotive industry greatly and have also brought drastic changes in the approach towards selling the products and servicing them. While in today’s connected world, many of the service parameters of automobiles can be checked, verified, diagnosed, and troubleshoot remotely and does not require to physically bring the vehicle to the workshop and yet in some cases such as body shop/paint shop or case of part change, they need to be physically brought to the workshop. With this major shift in approach in service & repair, due to the ingress of new technologies, the skill sets of service technicians at the dealers’ end are also directly getting impacted as they face the challenge of accessing & acquiring the right knowledge, information, and guidance to handle these challenges.
The new age OEMs are nowadays looking for new ways to differentiate themselves from their well established competitors. The best part is that many new-age OEMs have no historical baggage of the typical automotive world and are increasingly investing in the areas of connected, autonomous, sharing, and electric strategies, both for products and services. While with the rise of Industry 4.0/5.0, the manufacturing industry itself is undergoing drastic changes and exploring new ways to assemble automobiles such as Tesla’s unibody car body in its Giga Presses, these OEMs are also challenging the century-old sales and service legacy of retail models by deploying internet/App based ordering as well acceptance of service & repair request and are then providing the support at the customers’ doorstep based on their needs & convenience. To succeed in this new era, OEMs and their partners are embracing new technologies to improve the overall auto-owning experience.
To address these issues, as well as to make automotive service & repair systems more customer-centric & issue specific, as well as to efficiently handle a large number of vehicles systematically, digitalisation has come as a technical support tool, which can address multiple issues like handling of a large number of vehicles both in the workshop and/or on road, unplanned breakdowns of vehicles which can be tracking using GPS. The digitalisation can also help in proper tracking of required materials/spare parts needed, and then delivering all these parts as per plan, monitoring the work progress & performance, productivity and then updating the customers about the right status. Such monitoring can also be used to upgrade the skill level of the technicians while they execute the work by identifying the gaps in the skill sets of technicians and then arranging the training to upgrade them.
Advanced digital technologies such as Digital Mapping (DM), Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), Remote Access (RI) are already being deployed to train front-line workers in the automotive service & repairs sectors which helps in improving the repair productivity & quality of workmanship of new age service centres.
Today’s automotive OEMs are facing increasingly complex challenges from various directions: rise of EVs/CAEVs, rise the sharing mobility and sudden rise of multiple non-traditional operators in automobile industry, who have digitally enabled new products and services enabled linked to their digital enabled business models – these factors are driving the whole automobile eco-system to a future which needs to adopt to digitalisation much sooner than forecasted by any study. At the same time OEMs have had to deal with an increasingly demanding economic and political environment and it is in this scenario digitalisation brings tremendous scope of improvement in the present automotive systems.
While automotive manufacturing industry has already moved to Industry 4.0 and talk is on to move to industry 5.0, automotive service and repairing industry needs to take a long leap forward to catch up with them. While some of these leaps could be projected now based on the experiences from the digitalisation. In other industries, many new applications needs to be discovered/explored as the system adopts the digitalisation that evolves.
With this perspective, some of the forecasted benefits of digitalisation in the service & repairs setup of automobile workshop could be:
Service & Repair Efficiency Improvement
Digitalisation & proper mapping of service centres can help the dealers in multiple ways. While on one hand, it can reduce the expenses incurred in unwanted multiple diagnostics processes by following automated diagnostic procedures which can analyse the real-time performance data of a vehicle. This analysis can pinpoint the exact nature, cause, place, and forested time frame of the expected problem in the future. While such real-time analysis on one hand can reduce the time of root cause analysis to pinpoint the fault, digitalisation can also help in reducing the unwanted movement of vehicles as well as the anxiety of the customers. With the availability of vital information and history of vehicles in advance, digitalisation can also help in planning & preparing the repair/service station in advance for the vehicle. This preparation may include readiness with the right set of tools & the technicians of the right skill sets to execute the job in a better & efficient manner. In this way digitalisation can also prove to be of great helps in increasing the productivity of service station by effective utilisation of resources since without digitalisation much of the technicians’ time is wasted in accessing information from various sub-systems and then making arrangement to accommodate the arrived vehicle.
Management of Repair and Maintenance Information
With digitalisation, proper tracking of Repair and Maintenance Information (RMI) can be maintained to improve the performance of the service station, yet when this information is linked & feed back to the manufacturing process, it can also help in improving the future model of the automobiles being produced by incorporating the corrective action on the issues appearing repeatedly. Also, such integration can ensure a safer automotive on the road. Below is a text reproduced from a 2016 report of KPMG, named “The Digitalisation of the UK Automotive Industry”.
“Sigma Guardian is an Early Warning and Prevention system created by Warwick Analytics, which can find and resolve faults in a vehicle as they occur by processing raw data, which it then analyses through algorithms. Its key benefit is that it can help to reduce the time from fault detection to resolution. A recent application removed the need for the car dealer to intermediate between the vehicle owner and manufacturers; when the vehicle identified a defect, the system predicted when the fault required repair as well as the root cause of failure. As a result, the fault was repaired promptly, design engineers correspondingly changed the vehicle specification in less than half the time and the manufacturer reported 22% cost savings in its warranty remediation activities.”
Streamlining & Improving the Quality of the Repair Process
AR can provide technicians a tool to quickly diagnose the issues and also provide necessary accurate information to rectify them from the global database, instead of struggling to find the right solution. By accessing the data repository with the help of AR, technicians can reorganise the work process by understanding the repair methods being designed for specific repair activities and thus enhance their productivity. Such support can help in playing a strategic role in digital transformation and overall up-gradation of core operations on automobile service & repair.
Improving the Skill Sets of Technicians
By introducing Augmented Reality (AR) & Virtual Training Rooms (VTRs), technicians can be trained in a much better & faster way, enhancing their skills, expertise, and knowledge about the issues which have already appeared in the field or are expected to appear based on FMEA, probably much before they appear on the vehicle. Thus digitalisation can help in making the service & repair support system ready much in advance before faults appear on the vehicles. Such digitalisation can also help in reducing the training and skill gradation cost across the whole dealership network to a large extent, apart from making the process of training much faster, economical, and efficient. With the standard approach to repairs & using a programme to provide standard statistical analysis from vehicle data, anyone can be trained for interchangeability to work on multiple stations. This would help not only reduce the dependency on human judgment but also help in reducing the overall error rates apart from improving the overall automotive repair productivity.
Though most of the service stations already have a computerised inventory management system, however, digitalisation can further enhance the efficiency of the present-day locally connected computerised invertor management system. With digitation in place, the spare part stock status of multiple workshops can be mapped on a real-time basis for their optimised utilisation. With digitisation comes the other associated digital connectivity systems for improving the management of spare parts such as drone delivery, robotic transfer, and mechanised fitment. Such a system will not only make the service & repair station future ready but also will enhance their long sustainability in times to come.
Digitalisation of Accidental Repairs
Even though few repair processes such as sheet metal work and painting have remained manual processes for ages in the automotive industry yet this traditional approach has started changing now. From colour matching to painting to sheet metal profile matching, creation, fitment, and polishing, all are getting digitalised where computers are used to create matched colours considering the aging of the vehicle’s body paint, create optimised sheet metal profile with the least possible removal of parent sheet metal. All these systems work with minimal human interference. With time as more and more automobiles now becoming modular in structure (read Unibody structure as envisaged by Tesla) the components needed for any accidental repair will also become modular and may need only mechanised fitment. With digitalisation, these modular sheet metal parts could be easily designed, fabricated & fitted in the vehicle with minimal damage to the original structure of the vehicle.
Optimal Repair Allocation
The cars are getting increasingly complex, comprising a variety of sensors to perform efficiently and also they have multiple propulsion systems (HSD, Petrol, CNG, EV, H2, etc.), even a simple repair may need a completely different repairing process based on the type of accident or the type of vehicle. For example, front bumper damage on a new-age car may require particular skills from a body repair shop to ensure the parking lights, fog lights, front collision camera & also multiple sensors are refitted, checked, and calibrated properly for vehicles functionality. On the other hand, a similar accident on a CV will need a different skill set as their bumpers have different configurations. Digitalisation can be of great help in resource allocation of such repairs and can ensure that every damage is properly assessed and then assigned only to repair shops capable of handling it. Finally, such digital allocation can also maximise a workshop’s utilisation by scheduling repairs for their better utilisation.
Large Fleet Management
Digital tools have already been used for large fleet management, be it the city transportation system to cargo transportation system with extensive use of GPS tracking, travel logs, remote diagnostics of vehicles & performance monitoring involving highlevel telematics. The new high-powered digital platforms have also made vehicle scheduling and route planning considerably easier. However, the enhanced & more comprehensive system will not only improve it but will also help in optimising their operations by improving fuel efficiency, reducing fleet’s wear & tear, providing substitute in case of any breakdown, improving human comfort and also reducing the emission of GHG.
Improving Customer Satisfaction & Building Customer Loyalty
With digitalisation, not only is it possible to earn the trust, confidence, and loyalty of a customer, but it also helps in building a stronger bond with the customers by maintaining frequent and consistent communication with every customer and updating them about the performance of their own driving, their vehicles performance and also alarming them in advance about any issue which is getting diagnosed by the system based on the various data which is being continuously received in the digitalised system.
Automotive Service & Repairs is one of the most critical functions of the Automotive Industry. It helps to keep the vehicles on the road. It is the link between the automobile makers and the end customers. It also play a crucial & important role when a customer decides to buy a new or used vehicle. In the last few years, since the new technological development started to spread over all industries and services, enriching the customer experience and satisfaction and even disrupting the age-old behaviours of society, the new generation customers are now expecting the very much the same kind of experience in the automotive service sector also.
To meet such new customer needs, all automobile manufacturers need to develop a digital strategy that not only seeks to connect just their operations but also their service and repair setups including the dealers. With such digitalisation & connectivity, automobile manufacturers intend to collect a substantial amount of data from their automobiles, plying on road and then make use of this data to improve their design & functionality for improvement and then providing a much safer and more personalised automobiles based on individual requirement.
Such digitalisation in automotive service & repair setup is also the need of the hour when we talk about Industry 5.0/Society 5.0, a future world where multiple technologies would be merging together to create a metaverse which will have advanced IT Technologies, IoT, IIoT, Cobots/Robots, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Virtual Reality (VR), Augmented Reality (AR), IT solutions and architectures for cloud services, mobile solutions, Apps, collaboration, Machine Learning (ML), cognitive computing, big data, analytics, platforms, Industry 4.0, edge computing, 3D printing, additive production processes, wearables and robotics, drones. All of these would be actively used to create a connected society combining industry, health care and all other spheres of activity, not only for the progress but for the benefit and convenience of every person. This would be a society in which automobiles will always be playing an important role in their new avatar which could be CAEVs (Connected Autonomous Electric Vehicles).
The OEMs need to evolve the new system to capture the vehicular data from all the moving vehicles, analyse them to come out with a set of useful information and yet which will always be susceptible to hacking. The OEMs need to invest heavily in cyber security to safeguard these data and must also encourage their suppliers to adopt digitalisation to connect their supply chain with their service network. From the collected data of such digitalisation of service & repair network, substantial benefits can be attained, by the manufacturers by seamlessly sharing data amongst their design cell, supply chain, logistic team, their dealers as well as the vehicles and customers themselves. Lastly, a word of caution on digitalisation, which all organisation must not forget any data is as good as its authenticity and that good results can only be realised if the data is relevant, dynamic, continuous, cohesive, meaningful & virus/Trojan free, especially when we talk about digitalisation of service & repairs of automobiles.
- Paper “Digitalisation in the Automotive Aftermarket – An investigation of what impact digitalisation has on
automotive service dealers”, by Simon Johansson
- Challenges in the Digital Transformation of the Automotive Industry by Dr.-Ing. Uwe Winkelhake.
- Disruption in the Automotive Industry-How Digital is Changing the Car Sales by Deloitte
- Ready For Inspection-The Automotive Aftermarket in 2030 from McKinsey Centre for Future Mobility (June’2018)
- The Digitalisation of the UK automotive Industry by KPMG
Automotive & Engineering Consultant