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Automotive Refinisher has brought to you many, many insights to the global automotive industry future direction of travel. Well, just in case anyone thinks this is somehow in the distant future, I bring news. It’s now. Right now.

A view from BMW

I was fortunate to attend a set of lectures at the end of 2017 at the Royal Automobile Club located in Pall Mall, London which was founded in 1897 by Frederick Richard Simms along with agreeably wealthy gentlemen.

Here amid the many trophies and the stories of ‘derring-do’ by many distinguished members both past and present, there were presentations from Hans Joachim Stuck Jnr, who has driven the very same Auto Union P-Wagon that his dad drove as well as in recent times competed alongside his sons. Amid the memorable views he said that an abiding mission is to treat all meetings – planned or chance – as an opportunity to be polite as well as respectful, in the hope the other person will do the same.

David Richards C.B.E reflected on the transition from his early days of rally team management including the use of helicopters to get around the problem of not having enough budget or people to camp out along the entire rally route. On a broader point he promoted the idea that change is vital for any activity to continue, especially when it has significant commercial aspects. Indeed, in his business, the very act of ‘refreshing’ gives an automatic commercial advantage.

The presentation from Oliver Zipse, Board of Management for Production at BMW, gave a really startling view of the future. Given the concepts that were rolled out for the BMW Group centenary celebrations, one could have expected the chat to highlight autonomy, connectivity, short term access, ‘extension of living space’ and countless other well worn ideas.

Nope. Not a word

Here in the midst of interesting people was a glimpse of one vehicle manufacturer’s view of the near future world. Let us remember it was nearly two decades ago that BMW let the world know that the key characteristic of its vehicles would be defined by software, and not hardware. Indeed, the vision then was many services would be commissioned or even bought outright from third parties, but the key technologies would remain inside BMW Group.

Fast forward to 2017. BMW Group have manufacturing plants across the world, and have three units in the UK – Hams Hall which builds engines, Swindon which produces pressings as well as vital press tools and BMW Oxford, which is the primary production centre for Mini. Mr Zipse did reflect that BMW Oxford really is Cowley, the world famous plant that Lord Nuffield built for the Morris brand and gave the financial clout to the Nuffield Foundation – a significant healthcare company.

Many observers consider the current global economic and commercial activities and especially when related to individual companies. Thus, BMW Oxford is seen to be in the wrong place and switching on Mini capacity in the Netherlands along with China is the death knell for the original plant. BMW Swindon is not considered. The reality? BMW Swindon is one of two key plants that supply all BMW Group plants with press tools, and the skills shared between Dingolfing along with Swindon give BMW significant commercial advantages. BMW Oxford is a plant which is supremely flexible, and has been at capacity for some years – hence the expansion of production to VDL in the Netherlands, Magna Steyr in Austria and a new plant yet to be built in China.

What did Oliver Zipse see as the future? The UK figured twice in the view. The UK as the first BMW market to use an on-line system for ordering vehicles, which brings the familiar new vehicle configurator directly to the manufacturing plant supply chain. BMW are now in the process of rolling out this trial across the world. The second case involved BMW Oxford, which developed and then trialled a new system for checking the tightening torques of key components. This meant gathering data from the production line, developing new processes and then using those new processes alongside the original processes whilst building customer vehicles. The project worked, and the system is now being rolled out to all BMW Group production sites, thanks to the pioneering work of the team at BMW Oxford.

Co-incidence? No. BMW Group strategy. This targets key operations with the view of developing new technologies with the minimum risk to current manufacturing output and maximum possibility of success. It shows in the case of BMW Group that the ‘British’ way of developing cunning plans and brilliant ideas works well with the ‘German’ way of supreme product development.

The key future developments included realising the potential of ordering/configuring vehicles live in the supply chain, along with tackling other manufacturing processes to reduce waste. This is where autonomy was mentioned. The view of BMW Group is that vehicle autonomy for passenger cars is somewhat a dead end, with more pertinent applications for trucks or buses likely to be common in Europe by 2025. However, autonomy is a key technology for tackling in process waste.

The BMW Group manufacturing vision has components delivered just in time – a process that has existed for many years. Thanks to the new on-line ordering system much more of the vehicle can be delivered this way, moving the bulk of parts off site. Then, autonomous robots would pick parts for each vehicle assembly station minutes before they are needed track side. Key to this development is the human. Whilst automation in the body assembly areas has been well established, BMW Group see people assembling parts onto the painted body shell – robotics would not be used more than at present levels.

The objective in streamlining the manufacturing component delivery system is to reduce the amount of cash tied up in stock, to reduce the manufacturing plant floor space taken up with ‘paid for’ stock, and to make the build process faster. Many of these ideas are already being trialled, with roll out of the ultimate solution by 2019 and full implementation across all sites by 2022.

If that’s happening inside the manufacturer, what’s going on in our world?

Nissan Micra K14 – a simple car, right?

The big news in Europe was removing the unloved Micra K13 (now called Micra ‘Active’ in South Africa) which engineered primarily for Pacific rim markets. Micra K14 is built for Europe in Flins (French France!), alongside Renault Clio IV – and indeed as is common with Renault-Nissan-Daimler Alliance products, it uses the same platform as well as powertrains.

In Europe every single Micra K14 has the windscreen mounted CMOS camera as standard equipment and can optionally have traffic sign recognition software added. The blind spot warning (‘BSW’) RADAR system is fitted as an option on two of the higher trim packs which also includes a 360-degree surround view system with four cameras.

Windscreen CMOS camera. This may be fitted, and depending on the supporting software, can have:

– Lane departure warning (‘LDW’)

– Impact warning together with pedestrian recognition and automated braking

– Traffic sign recognition (‘TSR’).

The module is clipped to a plastic carrier bonded to the inner face of the windscreen, and is quite straightforward to remove.

If, however, the windscreen is replaced, or the module is removed/replaced, then the system will need to be re-calibrated. This is achieved statically using the Nissan ‘Consult’ diagnostics system, and requires a target created from three white panels and three black panels where each one is 120 mm square.

Next step is to measure the top of the wheel arch opening for the front and rear wheels, which then result in two further dimensions. The target is set up on a board three metres from the front axle centre line, on the longitudinal axis of the vehicle:

Once set up the Nissan ‘Consult’ diagnostics system requires every single one of the dimensions to be entered. Once completed, the system then runs through a menu of operations, which if successful, complete the calibration. If not, start the process all over again.

Rear RADAR (blind spot warning, or ‘BSW’). An option, fitted in Europe in combination with 360-degree surround view. The RADAR modules – if fitted – are located behind the rear bumper skin, close to the air extraction vents on the rear quarter extension panel. The system must not be activated on a rolling road.

The system is ‘plug and play’, meaning there is no discreet set up required. However, because the RADAR modules are detecting imbalance between the two modules sensing, it is not possible to place any form of permanent obstacle over the area of the bumper in front of each unit. That means it is not possible to fill or staple the bumper skin in the area surrounding either RADAR module.

Surround view cameras. This an optional system which can feature:

– A tailgate mounted rear view camera only.

– Or the rear view camera is combined with cameras fitted to the front bumper as well as the door mirrors.

These cameras require re-calibration if there are removed or replaced.

The first step is to see which of the cameras is active via the instrument central display. The image shows the ‘surround view’ system – if the rear view camera only is fitted, the display will refer only to that. The process vis Nissan ‘Consult’ diagnostics is static, and allows the overlap of each camera angle to be defined, or altered. In addition, as long as a camera is functional, it can be brought back ‘on line’. The method runs to six pages, and involved a step-by-step progress through the diagnostic system.

The future really is here now…

From sci-fi visions of automated component ordering at the same time a new car is ordered from the comfort of our home or office, via autonomous component delivery to humans during the build of a vehicle to multi-faceted vehicle safety systems on a relatively low cost vehicle.

We have discussed many, many times about the demand for greater skills and flexibility with continuous learning, and right here is proof that without this approach the collision repair business – and much of the automotive aftermarket – will simply disappear in the next decade. It’s not that there isn’t the need for the automotive aftermarket – rather that need for support for the lifetime of the vehicle is needed for the longevity of the automotive industry.

In time what appears to be complex today will become the new norm.

Until then model specific repair methods and associated technology based training will become vital for our survival.

Auto Industry Consulting is an independent provider of technical information to the global collision repair indutry. Products include EziMthods, our online collision repair methods system and Auto Industry Insider, our collision repair industry technical information website. For more information please visit the websites: www.ezimethods.com and www.autoindustryinsider.com or contact ben.cardy@autoindustryconsulting.com