Auto Repair Shops – An Industry Looking for a Future
Author: Joachim Geiger
What would an auto repair shop look like if an Aircar 1 from Slovakian manufacturer Klein Vision, equipped with a 160 hp BMW engine and rear propeller, were to land in the front yard for a propulsion system check? The mechatronics technicians would probably need a pilot’s license, as well as the workshop equipment necessary to maintain and repair the specific system components. Admittedly, this scenario is currently a mere thought experiment, even though the spectacular aircraft is about to go into small-scale production. However, it provides a blueprint for an answer to the future of workshops: They must march in step with the future of the car. In other words, a workshop’s training, know-how, and equipment will follow the mobile hardware’s development status.
DEKRA also has its sight set on these future issues. After all, the industry’s expert organization has been closely associated with main inspections, damage assessments, and workshop inspections for many decades. Marketing expert Marc Gounaris from DEKRA Automobil follows the developments closely: “The future has long since begun with digitization and electromobility. What’s needed is a lean and efficient workshop business.”
Electromobility will change the face of workshops in the long term
The complex technology of today’s vehicles presents some companies with tricky challenges. Replacing the windshield after a stone chip? Straightening and painting the bodywork after a fender bender? “Even seemingly simple tasks become a matter for professionals when the assistance systems’ cameras and sensors have to be measured and calibrated for repair,” explains Gounaris. And what if a customer brings their electric car in for repairs because the starter battery is failing? In that case, even seasoned professionals would have to bow out – unless they have the right qualifications. Only certified electricians are allowed to work on cars with high-voltage systems. Electrical work and the search for and diagnosis of faults require special training. So it’s obvious that the face of auto repair shops is changing as more electric cars enter the market.
The lower maintenance effort should then also lead to a lower demand for skilled workers, as indicated by a study on the job effects of change in the automotive working world, presented in July 2021 by the Boston Consulting Group. Does this mean the industry is at a crossroads? “There are still tens of millions of internal combustion vehicles on the roads, which will enable workshops to make a living in the medium term. But if you want to keep up with the times in ten years, you have to start investing in training, tools, and infrastructure soon,” says DEKRA expert Marc Gounaris.
The digital sphere in workshops is still in its infancy
How do workshops deal with digital documentation of the work performed? Or with mobile payment? Or with digital diagnosis, remote maintenance, augmented reality, and 3D printing? In its Digital Study 2021, the Institute for the Automotive Industry (IfA) attests that the industry has only a low level of digital maturity. According to the study, more than 30 percent of the businesses surveyed do not use any of these digital applications. But what could a workshop 4.0 look like in practice? Just under eight years ago, workshop equipment supplier Robert Bosch described an exciting vision that focuses on networking the players in service. According to this vision, the workshop of the future will know the health status of its customers’ vehicles and, if necessary, recommend a repair to the vehicle owner even before a component fails. Big data also plays a role in this design: A central control unit continuously records driving data and information about vehicle components’ operating status and load. The data is transmitted to a central data center, where it is processed using intelligent algorithms for preventive diagnostics.
In the meantime, the first car manufacturers are turning such scenarios into reality. Mercedes Benz, for example, commissioned a new building for its branch in Augsburg/Germany at the beginning of 2019, designed to digitize direct reception. This includes allowing customers to book their service appointment online. When the vehicle enters the premises, a scan of the license plate is automatically performed and informs the service employee of the customer’s arrival. At the same time, cameras check the vehicle for external damage to the bodywork. A visual guidance system then guides the customer to a reserved parking spot in the service terminal.
The “Auto Repair Shop 4.0” research project brings AI directly to the lifting platform
Another step toward the future of the auto repair shop is being taken by the “Auto Repair Shop 4.0” research project, which was officially launched in Germany at the beginning of February 2022. It’s supported by a consortium of illustrious participants – on board are, among others, the Osnabrück IT service provider LMIS, the Technical University Georg Agricola, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence, and DEKRA DIGITAL. The project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection (BMWK) and is scheduled to run for three years, is taking up the virtual banner of supporting independent workshops as well as small and medium-sized businesses in meeting the increasing demands of electromobility. The project’s agenda includes a new type of diagnostic procedure based on electrical variables measured in the engine compartment. This data will then be evaluated by an artificial intelligence system. As the funding decision states, this technology could turn classic vehicle diagnostics on its head – moving away from troubleshooting based on symptoms and toward causal diagnostics. In any case, the AI’s diagnoses are expected to be quite accurate, making service and maintenance more sustainable and economical. Before a workshop AI can provide a mechatronics technician with its diagnosis, however, it needs a suitable infrastructure and lots of relevant training data. The latter is provided by the day-to-day business of more than 5,000 independent workshops participating in the project. The first step is now the development of a common platform for workshop data, based on the European innovation platform GAIA-X. The data platform will reportedly also be usable for European auto workshops after the successful roll-out in Germany.
Three questions for Dr. Tarek Besold, Head of Strategic AI at DEKRA DIGITAL
How come DEKRA DIGITAL is involved in the “Auto Repair Shop 4.0” project?
Besold: DEKRA DIGITAL is dedicated to driving digital services and digital transformation within DEKRA, but also through external collaborations. Our goal is to rethink safety, security, and the entire TIC industry to ensure digital safety, especially in the automotive sector. Thus, the project partnership “Auto Repair Shop 4.0” is of great interest and at the same time we can contribute to the success of the project through our position as an independent third party with decades of experience in the automotive sector. By collaborating with business and research experts, we guarantee a transfer of knowledge for both sides and stay close to the pulse of technological progress.
What competencies does DEKRA DIGITAL bring to this project?
Besold: We bring the technological expertise from the internal AI and big data hubs to bear. We bundle our competencies and make them available. Our AI experts contribute their know-how on ensuring and testing the quality of artificial intelligence, while our big data experts take care of issues relating to data infrastructure as well as platform architectures and their implementation in complex software projects.
What contribution does DEKRA DIGITAL make to the development of the project?
Besold: We focus on our core competence in the form of testing and assessment as well as perspective certification of AI components being built for cyber-physical tools in the project. We are responsible for the monitoring and assessment of the various software components that make use of artificial intelligence and machine learning technologies in particular. In addition, our big data architects support the design and construction of the project’s data infrastructure.