Global demand for EVs is predicted to soar within the next decade as sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles start to be phased out in multiple countries. To remain competitive, automotive manufacturers must upgrade production facilities. 

Between 2023 and 2028, global sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are projected to rise by more than 160%, according to GlobalData. The shift from internal combustion engines (ICEs) to battery-powered vehicles represents the most significant change to automotive production in living memory. With incoming regulations, a failure to adapt quickly enough presents severe risks for automotive manufacturers. 

“We are seeing unprecedented change in the automotive industry that’s driven primarily out of the electrification of powertrains, but also around social responsibility whether that’s green initiatives, or just becoming more efficient with our resources,” says Nate McCall, senior solution manager of digital factory solutions provider, NavVis. 

According to the European Commission, 13 million low-emissions vehicles will be on Europe’s roads by 2025, increasing demand for lithium-ion (Li-ion) batteries.

As it stands, China is the dominant player when it comes to the manufacturing of EV batteries, according to GlobalData, and currently accounts for an estimated 80% of all Li-ion production – with much exported globally. To decrease dependence on international supply chains, many automotive manufacturers are seeking to bring battery production closer to their domestic operations.   

“EV batteries comprise three elements – the battery cell, the battery module, and the battery pack. The cells go into a module, then a specific number of modules will be put into a pack, and assembled in the vehicle,” explains Paul Hänchen, senior solutions manager at NavVis. 

In recent years, the rapid evolution of the automotive industry has led to significant changes in the structure and organization of car manufacturing processes. As a result, automotive manufacturers must adapt to meet the changing demands. 

“The battery is the most important component when manufacturing a car as it will not function without it. In the past, there would be a body shop, a paint shop, and an assembly shop in a production network. But now there’s also a battery shop,” says Hänchen. 

“OEMs are changing their product portfolio as they adapt to their customers’ new products – the EVs.  Furthermore, Tier 1 suppliers are manufacturing EV batteries as demand is high. They could potentially create a new business unit to help meet this demand and adapt to the transformation. Additionally, existing manufacturing lines may also need to adapt. It may even result in the setting up of new manufacturing lines, or new factories being built.”

The challenges of upgrading automotive production networks

One of the biggest pain points for the automotive industry is that there is less experience in battery manufacturing compared with more established areas of vehicle production. Consequently, manufacturers must quickly gain the necessary insight to adapt facilities and production lines to meet developing requirements. 

“There is less knowledge around manufacturing modules and packs. There is a lack of industry standards in this area. The automotive industry has been producing cars for decades. So, they have improved manufacturing capabilities through experience and lean methodologies,” says Hänchen.

There is a high level of automation in battery production facilities for various reasons, including repetitive tasks and safety concerns due to the chemicals within the battery. EVs can also be as much as 300kg heavier than petrol and diesel equivalents, meaning that conveyors in plants need reinforcing to avoid buckling under the potential strain of high-volume production. 

“When you have a high level of automation, you have a high need for technical infrastructure such as electricity, compressed air, LAN cables, and sensors. Therefore, accurate planning is essential,” adds Hänchen.

As countries around the world transition from ICEs to EVs, the industry must also consider how long it will keep producing ICEs, according to Hänchen.

“If the industry is still producing ICEs, it needs to consider whether to set up a new factory for EVs and if it will be built on a greenfield or brownfield site. Additionally, if they want to only produce battery packs or modules,” he states.

Another key challenge for the industry is that when a factory structure exists, it will require considerable investment to build a new factory. Therefore, automotive companies are looking at their existing sites and determining suitable places to put in heavy battery pack modules. Companies are also assessing the ways their production lines could change when the batteries are installed on vehicles.

The advantages of digital factories for automotive manufacturers

Major automotive manufacturers such as BMW have turned to NavVis to address many of the issues with upgrading production facilities to meet the changing market demands. 

NavVis offers mobile mapping solutions that can help increase the efficiency of production planning and operations. The NavVis VLX scanner enables the capture of complete spatial data of a production facility, combined with 360° panoramic images. The NavVis Digital Factory Solution supports the digitalization of manufacturing facilities, while NavVis IVION is a cloud and web based platform that allows users to manage and visualize their point cloud data remotely. Through the platform, users can move around facilities on a standard web browser with similar functionality to Google StreetView. 

“NavVis technology is simple to use and does not require much training. It’s really intuitive, all you need is either a laptop, tablet or phone and you have easy access to your factory while you are on the go. It enables accurate and professional planning. In turn, you can increase vehicle production, profitability, and planning efficiency,” states Hänchen. 

“Our technology offers remote access and a number of benefits. Data is being captured and combined to create very comprehensive datasets that can be used for planning, maintenance and shop floor management use cases,” explains McCall. 

Furthermore, the technology provides users with the ability to plan a project and collaborate more effectively. This leads to increased efficiency and helps reduce costs for original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and Tier 1 suppliers. Factories can be designed with higher levels of precision to optimize space use and materials. Equipment can be installed with a clear understanding of the facility layout.

“There’s a high level of intuitiveness that is conveyed when people first see data in the NavVis IVION platform, and using the embedded tools and features, they immediately begin to leverage the benefits,” says McCall. “The data is accurate, comprehensive, and up-to-date. Providing data that planners and engineers can use makes projects and operations more efficient. Their ability to easily access and have trust in the data can also alleviate some psychological workload in a relatively busy and stressful environment.”

To learn more about NavVis digital factory solutions and their potential uses in the industrial metaverse, download the specially commissioned white paper below.