The automotive industry used to be thought of as slow moving. Until fairly recently, it was not much of a stretch to say that the motor car, for all its improvements in safety and technology, had not fundamentally changed in a century. Vintage car owners could easily point to hundreds of differences in steering, climate control or braking systems, but vehicles are still mostly driven for personal, often private mobility, still powered by the internal combustion engine and still purchased through dealers.
The same could almost be said inside the factory. While robotics and IT have changed output and labour requirements, and lean management and just-in-time processes have reduced inventory, the principals of mass assembly in the 2000s would not be completely unrecognisable to plant managers from the 1970s or even earlier.
Has logistics changed much more? Yes and no. Henry Ford built his earliest plants in locations that were well served by their multimodal access, considerations that, following decades of focus mainly on highway access, have once again proved valuable. Yet even as the industry has gone from vertical to horizontal integration, with a large array of third-party suppliers and services across geographies, the large majority of parts for major factories are typically still sourced from within driving distance and moved through common consolidation networks. It is not uncommon for rail wagons, ships or trailers to be decades old. Some manufacturers run their supply chain and production systems on the basis of IT systems developed 35 years ago, if not older.
Change is in the airHowever, the once-slow pace of change in automotive is increasingly a thing of the past. Cars are high-powered computers and connected mobile devices, and need development cycles, production and retail models to match. Investments in electric vehicles and battery technology are mounting at a staggering pace, especially in China.
The shifts are being felt in logistics as well. Global complexity has increased with changes in technology, complicated further by regulations and trade barriers. Manufacturers are exploring new forms of automation, whether in picking and materials handling or augmented reality and machine learning. Connectivity promises more data and visibility to improve forecasts and planning. Consumers and regulators are looking for more sustainable options.
As the industry changes, manufacturers and service providers are also seeking out new suppliers and deeper partnerships, including those who can implement advanced technology and processes to fit their needs and work together. Risks need to be taken on start-ups, including investment and trials in new ideas. Collaboration between competitors, customers and business units is accelerating.
At the same time, long-term relationships need not erode or fade away, even in an era of automation and AI. Change in one area often requires stability in another, while not all equipment and processes should be changed just for the sake of it. Established players in logistics can and should bring innovation and disrupt their industry as much as any new entrant. Players on all sides need to keep an open mind.
The Automotive Logistics online Buyers’ Guide profiles can be one tool to build and maintain such partnerships, old and new. The supplier listings provide insights into specialisation across the industry, from integrated logistics providers, packaging, premium freight, vehicle logistics providers and much more. You will also find extended data, contact details around the world, and multimedia information sources, updated regularly.
No matter what the technology, geography or product, it remains critical to identify the right logistics partners – which is perhaps the only thing that won’t change in the automotive supply chain.
Christopher Ludwig is the Content Director at Automotive Logistics’ parent company, Ultima Media