What does the future of vehicle manufacturing look like?

How do you think of your car? A functional piece of machinery to get you from A to B? Or maybe for many of us they are part of our self-expression. They say so much about us, from our budget to our style and few things communicate status like our choice of vehicle. Vehicle manufacturing is a fascinating combination of technology, functionality and style and the developments in this industry continue apace.

We still have many ambitions for our cars and the industry is therefore constantly striving to improve the quality of vehicles and also, crucially, their performance. Itís not just about making a cheaper product, although competitiveness remains important. Overall we demand cars that are lower in maintenance requirements and more reliable. We want them to be safer and more fuel efficient, more eco-friendly and to be more comfortable.

Car manufacturers look to research to solve these kinds of demand pressures and technology holds the key to most solutions. The age-old challenge of improving road handling promotes interest in weighing the chassis and measuring weight distribution more precisely, which therefore drives further innovation in parts such as load cells and the sensors to monitor them.

Where once a car production line conjured up images of big labor input and repetitive tasks, today this type of labor is largely automated and the production process is more by computer-controlled machine than by hand.

Itís vital to measure values with increasing accuracy, such as pressures, or emissions, or levels of brightness. Placing sensors on critical mechanical parts, which use laser technology to measure values and to interface between the car and the computer control systems, can capture all these types of values.

Transducer techniques are the technology that lies behind all this sophistication, converting physical quantities into electrical signals and vice versa. RFIDs are also a growing part of managing car production, as they have the capacity to identify relationships between different parts and to bring them together correctly every time. This type of automation speeds up production and provides levels of reliability and precision that human labor could not even dream of.

The next few years are going to be exciting as we see sophisticated computing and laser technology paving the way for far greater levels of automated behavior in production and on the road. We are edging closer to the driverless car, thanks to laser sensors and the interface with interactive highway management. This has implications too if there are fewer accidents, less need for emergency services and fewer mechanics to service and repair vehicles.

Even today we are starting to see robots that can not only build a car but are requesting replacement parts and suggesting new areas to research. They may also be filing error reports and booking appointments with service centers. Will we get to the time when even such errors are prevented by computers requesting new research efforts to prevent an error occurring in the first place?