Drivers will be able to order their own customised cars and have them delivered within days, rather than months.
That is the aim of a new UK research programme that plans to revolutionise the automotive industry.
Starting this autumn, the programme will develop technologies and systems to enable manufacturers, suppliers and dealers to build and deliver a car with the customer’s choice of options in just three days.
The main tasks of the project will include building a radically new IT system to allow integration of all operations – from dealers taking orders to the logistics of delivering completed cars. But there will also be implications for the way cars are made, with a more modular approach to assembly likely to be needed.
Technologies to be trialled will be direct-order booking systems, real time information sharing capabilities, flexible paint processes and modular car components.
Currently, although it can take just 18 hours for a car to be assembled on the production line, it can take up to three months for a customer to receive what they ordered if the specific combination of options is not in stock.
The internet will be key to delivering the customised car, according to work already completed for the Three Day Car programme. The solution is likely to be a fast routing system of real time information provision between customer, manufacturer and supplier.
The problems with dealers’ IT systems now is that they have excessive hand keying, manual controls and duplication of information. At the other end of the process, there is poor integration of the logistics of delivering finished cars.
For vehicle manufacturers batch processing of orders is the key barrier. Despite the development of just in time and sequenced delivery of components to production lines, components are still ordered centrally in batches by mainframes that update once a day. This system adds four to five days to the delivery time of a vehicle, the researchers say.
The programme concluded that industry can make progress in the short term through advances in electronic communication. Car companies have used dedicated communication lines in the past, which formed part of Electronic Data Interchange.EDI is expected to be superseded by the internet but there are concerns that the information superhighway does not provide enough security and there is a lack of standards.
Big changes are likely in the production process too.
A project insider told The Engineer: ‘Technologies we will be encouraging include space frame construction. Instead of using the welded steel shell, with everything fixed to it, we see a return to the old chassis approach. The space frame allows you to attach parts at different times, rather than today’s practice of putting every thing on at once. We envisage a more ‘bolt-on’ approach.’
Three Day Car II is the second stage of the car industry-supported project that began in 1999.
If successful the adoption of the practices and tools of the Three Day Car system would take five to 10 years.