CLA Series: AV Production Tip #4 – Optimize for Human-Centric Production Processes

The latest episode of our CLA podcast series, "7 Tips to Reliably Scale Autonomous Vehicle Production, " discusses how human-centric production processes can be optimized to achieve higher output quality and greater assembly efficiency. Brandon Bartneck, VP and GM of Edison, shares details on the manual-heavy areas in the autonomous vehicle industry and emphasizes the importance of quality control and proper work instructions. By optimizing your low-volume production processes for human involvement, you can ensure that safety-critical components are reliable and that your assembly methods are effective. Tune in now and learn how to optimize for human-centric production processes!

The following questions are addressed in this video:

  • Why will AV upfits and retrofits be a manual-heavy process?
  • How should automation be applied for AV assembly?
  • What are the most important considerations for controlling quality for manual processes?

Key themes include:

  • Poka-yoke
  • Production process
  • Operator work instructions
  • Manual production
  • Operator training

Key Takeaways:

  • The process of building autonomous vehicles, particularly for outfits or retrofit applications, involves tasks with small parts, tight corners, and intricate details. These types of functions are often difficult and costly to automate. If you want to be cost-effective, it's better to use a human-led process for a while.
  • Quality is a great necessity for autonomous vehicle builds, so when using humans instead of robots for production, it’s critical that quality control measures and proper quality management is in place, widely known, and realistic for sustainable use.
  • Clear work instructions, well-designed processes, and proper execution are crucial. The right people are also important. Proper operator selection, recruitment, hiring, and training are essential.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to the Capital Light Assembly Podcast, brought to you by Edison Manufacturing and Engineering. Edison is your contract manufacturing partner focused on the capital-efficient assembly of complex mobility and mobility-adjacent products that are not well suited for highly automated production. I’m Brandon Bartneck, vice president and general manager here at Edison, and you’re listening to part of a special series focused on how to reliably scale the production of autonomous vehicles.

So, how can you execute and scale that production? Building autonomous vehicles is part of our core business. It’s an area where we have a lot of experience and expertise. We’re using this series as a way to share some of that knowledge with anyone who’s going through this process, so I hope you enjoy it. There are seven tips total and seven episodes here, so check out the ones before and after this, and please enjoy!

The next tip is to realize that this will be a human-heavy production process for a while, so plan accordingly. That’s a mouthful but think about that. So, the process for autonomous vehicle builds, especially if it's in an outfit or retrofit application, you’re getting a vehicle that has not been designed for autonomy. I mean, maybe it has a bi-wire system integrated into it, and that's something that will be more common as we go forward, but it is not going to have the sensors, the harnesses, the computer that you need to be installed, and whatever else comes.

So, what’s required is a teardown, and some sub-assembly build and then installation of those sub-assemblies, often in tight corners, and some of the interior teardown and reinstallation and running wire harnesses and stuff like that. Most of which are difficult to automate and expensive to automate. And especially if you pair that with the idea of trying to be capital-efficient, it makes sense to use a human-led process here for a while.

So, the dichotomy, though, is if you think about the previous tip of how important quality is here and how important it is that things are done correctly and repeatably, introducing humans into that system is a challenge at times because we are more prone to make mistakes than robots and automation generally are. So how do you do this? And again, it starts with effective quality planning and a quality management system, like the APQP process. You'll use your design failure modes and effects analysis and process failure modes and effects analysis to define the controls that you need and identify the quality critical items and things that need to be addressed. But assuming you do all that well, how do you then have a human-led process that is reliably and repeatedly executed?

One of the important tools that are at your disposal here is operator work instructions. So what information is the operator processing when they're building? And it's important that they're getting exactly the information that they need at the time and place they need it. They can see what they need to do, how they need to do that, and possibly most importantly, why they need to do it in a certain way. And you often pair that with, you know, what are the things to look out for and how or where these errors can be made? And that sounds simple, but it's not something that is often done well. So, think about how you can get that information in a way that the operator is actually going to use and benefit from it. And again, the information that they need, when and where they need it every time.

And so, operator work instructions, design, and execution are very important. And then building out, you pair that with some foundational stuff of people who are actually doing this, but it’s important that you have the right people. So, operator selection and the way in which you are recruiting, hiring, and training the right people to do this work are very important.

The way in which you're designing the process is important. Introduce poke-yokes and ensure that whenever possible, you can't build this thing the wrong way. It's just kind of blocking and tackling in the manufacturing world, but you have to do it well if you're going to build autonomous vehicles at scale effectively.

And then last one, again, this is a foundational, fundamental thing, but good operations management is critical here and giving the support and leadership and direction and oversight that's required to have a high-performing team who's going to do so.

So, several of these, like the operator work instructions, are maybe the biggest thing that doesn't seem obvious to the rest of it. It's kind of like if you're coming from a manufacturing world, it makes sense to design a good process, operate that process well, and have good people to work with, but just because it's simple doesn't mean it's easy. So, you have to get these fundamentals right when you're playing with something that's so safety-critical. So yeah, this tip. Realize that this will be a human-heavy process for quite a while and plan accordingly.

Make sure to follow along with this series as we answer some of the following questions:

  • How can autonomous vehicles be built at scale?
  • How can AV companies bring their hardware products to the market?
  • How can common manufacturing mistakes be avoided?
  • How does automotive know-how and experience apply in the AV space?

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