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Mercedes production chief Schaefer sees several disruptive technology changes down the road

BERLIN — IT has become an integral part of the automotive production process, Markus Schaefer, head of production and logistics at Mercedes-Benz Cars, said Thursday.

“Today, IT, electrical and electronics and IT are one,” Schaefer told the automotiveIT Congress here. “IT is part of the planning, the development processes and production; there are no more divisions.”

Schaefer said cars are built in an increasingly complex environment. He predicted, for example, that the number of derivatives at Mercedes is likely to grow from 40 today to around 50 in the near future.

Schaefer also said the carmaker’s supplier base will grow. Today, Mercedes already has 1,500 component and systems suppliers that feed 32 car plants worldwide. And he said the regulatory environment is posing fresh challenges.

The Mercedes executive predicted that electrical, electronic and IT components and systems will “grow dramatically” in the car in coming years.

And he cited three “disruptive trends” that are likely to change car manufacturing in coming years.

The first is 3D manufacturing. “A major breakthrough of additive manufacturing will be a real game changer,” he said, adding that he could see 3D technology build components as well as functions of these components.

A second technology is artificial intelligence and a third is a possible longer term move to direct current from alternating current. Said Schaefer: “The first research plans are ready.”

Despite the continuing digitalization of manufacturing, Schaefer said traditional factory workers will not disappear. “I don’t see a factory that doesn’t have people in it,” Schaefer said. “I see a combination of people and intelligent machines.”

-By Arjen Bongard