COVID-19: UK car manufacturing to see major impact
Amidst the current outbreak of COVID-19, SMMT predicts that the car manufacturing sector should brace for a downward impact due to the pandemic.
Recent figures show that the UK motor industry manufactured 122,171 new cars in February, a slight drop of 0.8% when compared to January - a result which SMMT attributes to a slower demand within key global export markets.
Export figures show a demand reduction of 3.1% from the US and Asia, which resulted in fewer than 95,000 units, despite the EU seeing a 3.6% increase.
However, figures did also show an increase in domestic demand, seeing a significant climb of 7.8% with 27.172 cars manufactured for the home market.
Although the car manufacturing industry in the UK saw some increases, overall car production for the region has fallen by 1.5% year on year.
The SMMT highlighted that the figures come at a time of unprecedented challenge for the UK and its automotive industry, as nearly all British vehicle manufacturers have paused production in an effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“Despite the myriad global challenges the UK automotive industry has faced in recent times, it remains fundamentally strong and February’s figures reflect that. However, these figures also reflect the calm before the storm. With UK car plants now effectively on national shutdown and many global markets closed, the outlook is of deep concern,” comments Mike Hawes, Chief Executive at SMMT.
The SMMT has predicted that the shutdown of the UK major plants to curb the impact of the outbreak, will mean the UK could produce 200,000 fewer cars in 2020 compared with 2019 - a drop of 18%.
However, SMMT also warns that if the duration of the shutdown continues for several months then the impact could be even more severe, stressing that the government must accelerate the access to emergency financial support for all businesses.
“We wholeheartedly welcome the government's extraordinary package of emergency support for businesses and workers, but this must get through to businesses now. If we’re to keep this sector alive and in a position to help Britain get back on its feet, we urgently need funding to be released, additional measures to ease pressure on cash flow and clarity on how employment support measures will work,” concludes Hawes.
SMMT figures show that the automotive industry in the UK is one of the region's most valuable economic assets, contributing roughly US$22.7bn per year to the economy. In addition the industry employs hundreds of thousands people across the country in high-skill and high valued jobs.
Despite these challenges, the entire industry is banding together in a national effort to support the battle against COVID-19. Many manufacturers are turning their production operations away from cars towards the production of medical equipment and supplies, to sustain the delivery of the essentials for the emergency services.
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Fluent.ai x BSH: Voice Automating the Assembly Line
Fluent.ai has deployed its voice recognition solutions in one of BSH’s German factories. BSH leads the market in producing connected appliances—its brands include Bosch, Siemens, Gaggenau, NEFF, and Thermador, and with this new partnership, the company intends to cut transition time in its assembly lines.
According to BSH, voice automation will yield 75-100% efficiency gains—but it’s the collaboration between the two companies that stands out. ‘After considering 11 companies for this partnership, we chose Fluent.ai because of their key competitive differentiators’, explained Ion Hauer, Venture Partner at BSH Startup Kitchen.
What Sets Fluent.ai Apart?
After seven years of research, the company developed a wide range of artificial intelligence (AI) software products to help original equipment manufacturers (OEM) expand their services. Three key aspects stood out to BSH, which operates across the world and in unique factory environments.
- Robust noise controls. The system can operate even in loud conditions.
- Low latency. The AI understands commands quickly and accurately.
- Multilingual support. BSH can expand the automation to any of its 50+ country operations.
How Voice Automation Works
Instead of pressing buttons, BSH factory workers will now be able to speak into a headset fitted with Fluent.ai’s voice recognition technology. After uttering a WakeWord, workers can use a command to start assembly line movement. As the technology is hands-free, workers benefit from less physical strain, which will both reduce employee fatigue and boost line production.
‘Implementing Fluent’s technology has already improved efficiencies within our factory, with initial implementation of the solution cutting down the transition time from four seconds to one and a half”, said Markus Maier, Project Lead at the BSH factory. ‘In the long run, the production time savings will be invaluable’.
Future Global Adoption
In the coming years, BSH and Fluent.ai will continue to push for artificial intelligence on factory lines, pursuing efficiency, ergonomics, and a healthy work environment. ‘We started with Fluent.ai on one factory assembly line, moved to three, and [are now] considering rolling the technology out worldwide’, said Maier.
Said Probal Lala, Fluent.ai’s CEO: ‘We are thrilled to be working with BSH, a company at the forefront of innovation. Seeing your solution out in the real world is incredibly rewarding, and we look forward to continuing and growing our collaboration’.