Amid the multitude of challenges faced by the automotive industry during the COVID-19 pandemic, one silver lining that’s emerged has been the shift towards contactless, remote engineering services.
From the use of ‘secured’ live data for remote testing through to virtual verification, here, Richard Adams, Head of Strategic Global Sales for Verification and Validation at HORIBA MIRA, examines the positive legacy these new ways of working could have on the industry.
Like many industries, there’s no denying the coronavirus pandemic has caused unprecedented disruption and distress for the automotive sector. In April last year, British car production fell by a staggering -99.7% with just 197 vehicles leaving UK factory gates, the lowest monthly output since the Second World War, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders1. What’s more, despite the industry picking up through the year, by November as we entered a second national lockdown, the sale of petrol and diesel cars sank once again.
As the pandemic took hold at the beginning of the year, vehicle manufacturers were forced to close factories and re-evaluate new product development plans, faced with the prospect of postponing, or abandoning, critical programmes – putting at risk their viability unless new and effective working practices could be enacted quickly. Not only did the lockdown test our normal working practices, but it forced the industry to adapt and find practical solutions to ensure business could continue.
One such example is the rise of contactless engineering whereby a range of core vehicle engineering services are conducted remotely in ‘real time’ – a service that we at HORIBA MIRA have seen unprecedented demand for since the initial lockdown.
While many contactless engineering services have been on offer for some time, the pandemic and resulting lockdown has positioned these not only as a lifeline to keep vital vehicle development programmes running – but simply as a better way of doing things going forward. Crucially, while the decision to go remote may have initially been taken on a needs-must basis, many businesses are now realising the multiple benefits afforded by taking this approach.
Whether it’s increased efficiency or cost-savings, as we emerge from lockdowns around the world, and the automotive sector fires up for recovery, a contactless engineering approach should be embraced as a silver lining during this difficult time. Ultimately, it is a positive legacy that could change vehicle development forever.
Contactless engineering services are not a new initiative, in fact within HORIBA MIRA’s EMC (electromagnetic compatibility) department we’ve been offering remote witnessing of vehicle engineering and test work for over a decade, but with the shift within the industry to home working and a reduction in overseas travel, 2020 saw a marked increase of contactless work, with more and more vehicle development teams from around the world choosing to dial in remotely to witness their product development.
As an early pioneer of the remote application of vehicle testing, HORIBA MIRA’s end-to-end contactless services include the use of ‘secured’ live data, remote re-flashing, wearable cameras and CCTV in laboratory settings, which enable offsite customer teams to drive the development process in real time. We’re able to turn our customers’ home office into the control room and hand over the running of the project where required.
Fundamentally, a huge benefit lies in the flexibility of these services; the delivery team can be entirely resourced by our engineers, or a blend of OEM, and tier one and two stakeholders as the programme dictates at different times. This way, programme leaders, often with multiple teams operating in global locations, are able to maintain a meaningful understanding of the development status for each programme without the need to send oversized teams to witness the development process; a feat which has proved crucial amid COVID-19.
For global vehicle development programmes, many of which operate to a tight timeframe in getting their latest product to market, the benefits of this type of contactless testing are ten-fold. This approach means you can run multiple testing programmes simultaneously, for multiple locations and provide the real time data that’s critical to getting their product to market as quickly as possible. The end-result is a faster technical iteration rate at a lower cost. And it’s not just vehicles that can be developed and validated remotely, we work in this way to develop individual components too, whether it’s a headlight or an internal lighting fixture, we can test it remotely and manage the whole test programme from start to finish.
The success of our remote development service has led to the roll out of remote certification services, providing vehicle makers a critical route to market throughout lockdown. Here working alongside the Vehicle Certification Agency and other European type approval authorities, key stakeholders can dial in to remotely witness and certify products. We’re also now able to administer UKAS audits remotely, a request of all UK test facilities by UKAS. This approach which enables test data and live CCTV video of the product under test, along with the sharing of relevant technical documentation, has been successfully utilised during the recent ISO 17025 audit conducted by UKAS.
For us, it’s clear that contactless engineering has helped to minimise disruption for the sector, whilst sparking a widespread acceleration of the adoption of next-generation development processes.
Going forward as an industry, adopting new ways of working will be critical to getting the automotive segment back up and thriving following months of disruption. These include contactless engineering services, coupled with consolidated on-site testing, which can provide a much more streamlined and cost-effective way for the end-to-end development of vehicles in the first place.
At HORIBA MIRA, we’ve been geared up for this way of doing things for years, having joined our design, attribute engineering and validation teams. Through our extensive experience of being based on the MIRA Technology Park, Europe’s leading automotive R&D cluster, we’ve seen first-hand the benefits to be had from the maximum effective use of all prototype hardware and minimal logistics, at every stage of the V-cycle.
Whilst there is no doubt that there will be more change to come for the automotive sector, as we look to meet the challenge of driving forward in a post-pandemic world. The current delivery model of contactless engineering services offers the industry the opportunity to ask itself one important question – what positive legacy can we take away from the global crisis?
The answer is we can permanently reshape our working practices and retain some of the hard-won benefits and operational efficiencies achieved during lockdown, especially those provided by remote engineering services.