From the outside, an electric vehicle (EV) looks just like a gas-powered vehicle. But it’s not.

Under the chassis, there are differences – an electric car typically has lighter parts, uses no spark plug, and has no need for many of the heavy mechanical components typically found in a gas-powered vehicle. When you think of it like this, it’s easy to understand why automakers are looking for new-age, technology-first manufacturing solutions.

It’s believed that EVs are a pre-cursor to self-driving or autonomous vehicles. Automakers that accelerate their journey to manufacturing excellence with EVs are bound to win the market when the shift to autonomous vehicles happens.

That being said, demand for EVs is hard to predict. Technically, a lack of charging stations and a universal charging plug is a major barrier to adoption. However, incentives, tax rebates, and concessions in duties offered by various federal and state governments across the world are constantly being contemplated.

As a result, the automotive factory of the future needs to be focus on flexibility and modularity. It may product just 50 vehicles per day during the first few weeks and may have to ramp up production to 1,500 vehicles per day at short notice to perhaps meet domestic or foreign demand.

Cisco works with some of the largest and most cutting-edge automakers in the world. All of them are at different stages of their journey to designing new-age manufacturing campuses – but they have one thing in common, they harness their data and leverage it to drive optimization and efficiency.

The EV manufacturing facility is a data powerhouse

In an advanced manufacturing facility, EV makers don’t just load 200,000 to 300,000 lines of code onto a vehicle to make the mechanical and electrical parts work together – they monitor each process closely to collect tens of petabytes of data every day from a facility running at full capacity.

Behind the scenes, getting this data is a bit of a challenge. There’s a lot they need to figure out from a technology perspective.

It requires connecting the entire factory with a robust network that offers low latency and high availability; ensuring sensors are functioning correctly and collecting the right data accurately; using software solutions to organize the data into dashboards; protecting the factory from cyberattacks and the data from misuse; ensuring observability and visibility factor into everything so that factory and corporate teams have access to data; the technology-fabric at such campuses is truly marvelous.

When harnessed correctly, this data can allow organizations to optimize their facilities and boost efficiencies significantly. In fact, it can feed into hardware and software automations that can ensure scalability and support the modularity that modern customers demand as they look to make small changes to the vehicle they purchase and hope to enjoy for years to come (the life of an EV is often longer than a gas-powered vehicle).

Connecting with external ecosystems – safely

 When you think of a manufacturing facility, you often think of it as an ecosystem in and of itself. That was true in the past but not anymore.

The modern facility, be it automotive or anything else, is connected with several external ecosystems with a requirement to safely exchange data and information with them to trigger actions, give signals, and more. Doing this efficiently requires that internal sensors, networks, and solutions work seamlessly and that there are several layers of security that keep all the operational technology (OT) and the information technology (IT) systems in the facility safe and secure.

Cisco is known for building connected environments, and helping customers securely exchange data and information with external vendors is part of that.

Think of automakers needing to automatically order parts when inventory of certain circuits, chips or other parts are low, or signaling logistics partners to trigger the generation of an airway bill for vehicles that are to be collected and shipped to another part of the world.

The applications are numerous and increase every day as these connecting with external parties allows for automations that boost productivity and make optimizations easier.

Those who have built robust data solutions – from ‘shop floor’ connectivity to ‘top floor’ connectivity – are also using it to delight their customers. Some automakers in the world allow customers to see their vehicle being made as it moves from one department or stage of production to another, relieving them of the anxiety that comes with the long-wait times customary in the modern auto industry.

The need for data security in such an environment cannot be ignored. Any intrusion can be catastrophic and lead to significant financial and irreparable reputational damages. Customers choose to work with Cisco in these environments because security is built into the DNA of everything we create, and not an afterthought.

Ultimately, for a number of reasons, automakers of today preparing to meet customer expectations of EVs and autonomous vehicles of tomorrow need to rethink their facilities from the ground up; they need to realize that technology doesn’t just have a role to play in their new facilities, it’s their key enabler.

A focus on connectivity, networks, solutions, and security will ultimately pay big dividends in the mid- and long-term for automakers anywhere in the world.