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Massimo Brunamonti

Smart Equipment

With the Autopromotec 2018 Conference now behind us, we have the opportunity to ruminate over the countless ideas highlighted by the wide number of speakers we all had the pleasure of listening to.

The industry’s changing scenario, anticipated by more or less everyone, is a great cause of concern for many, yet at the same time one cannot help being curious about the changes it will bring along with a growing awareness that it is precisely this change that will generate the needed dynamics for those who, through new ideas and courage, will be able to exploit its potential.

Several talks dealt with connected vehicles, autonomous driving, artificial intelligence and how these will impact the auto repair sector; a further theme that received some attention but that needs further consideration relates to the future of garage equipment.

How do garage equipment manufacturers fit in all this? After-sales technical assistance will be increasingly based on a variety of information, starting from vehicle data, Obd codes, the type of spare parts or consumables, not to mention customer data "the real object of desire".

But the question is, how can such equipment use and manage all that information? Paper based technical books are now a distant memory; nowadays technical data “fly” from cloud to cloud: it is all about being able to access and using them where and when needed, i.e. in every section of the  workshop during maintenance and repair works: from the office, to the spare parts warehouse up to each individual piece of equipment.

Imagine being in a garage that receives, through a social network or an app a request for a service, maintenance or repair work. The customer will not need to do anything more than confirm in his agenda the day and time of the appointment which, in the meantime, will have been arranged by his trusted mechanic, as an automatic response.

What happens at this point in the workshop? The reservation management software issues a work card for that customer on that day and hour, assigning also all the necessary equipment. Upon arrival the vehicle is led directly to the reserved workstations after the computer accesses the cloud to download all the vehicle’s technical data.

At this point, the equipment, the workshop as well as the vehicle are all connected. The magic words that perfectly describe this scenario is "Internet of Things" (IoT), with each piece of equipment becoming precisely one of the “Things”.

Manufacturers are perfectly aware of this, to the point that work is currently underway on defining protocols and data Exchange networks within the workshop with the purpose of making each item “connected”, promoting productivity and quality of service using its own IT system, and optimizing access to the cloud.


The EU Commission mobility package: “vision zero”

After much debate, the European Commission finally issued what we know as the EU "Mobility Package", on one of the hottest topics in the road transport sector: Europe’s strategy for tomorrow’s mobility.

A focus point indeed, especially in view of the impressive amount of studies and investments made; not to mention a few, even dramatic incidents, i.e. deadly accidents in the US and beyond. In Italy, the previous government, in the person of the then Minister of Transport Graziano Del Rio, issued a specific decree on the subject, which included experiments with autonomous vehicles. Hence, now, our country will be able to play an important role in the development of this technology.

The key points of the plan are two: the first is why. What is the reason behind the social and political relevance of autonomous vehicles? The Commission expressed the concept quite clearly in its vision: the hope is that autonomous driving will contribute to a substantial reduction in accidents, pollution and traffic congestion. Let us not forget that Europe has already set for itself a rather ambitions goal, the so-called "Vision Zero", meaning zero deaths due to road accidents; well, autonomous driving is considered a fundamental step in reaching such a result, so much so that since 2014, 300 million euro have been allocated as European funds towards research and development and a further 103 million will be made available from 2018 to support highly automated driving pilot projects. In addition, another 50 million have been allocated to 5G connectivity as an aid to assisted driving.

However, much more is currently been done in the field of digital infrastructure developments, a fundamental component for tomorrow’s smart mobility. A total of 1,173 million euro have been allocated to the European Connection Structure, currently developing new digital infrastructures in 16 EU countries including Italy. The project, designed for road mobility as a whole, has, as its first key element, freight transport: an example of this is the “platooning” pilot project, the designation of which may seem fanciful, but relates to several autonomous trucks moving in line with a short distance between them, in order to reduce consumption and pollution. Furthermore, another project called "Ensemble", will be under way in the summer of 2018 to ensure safe “platooning” when different branded trucks are used. And we should not forget the fundamental role the Galileo European satellite systemcould play in the future, launched at the time of the Prodi Presidency and able to ensure vehicle geolocation with the highest precision.

The second relevant point is, how? Interesting to note that the document mentions the new type approval (see article in the past issue of Pneurama), enacted last May, which provides for post-approval market monitoring in Europe, the first area in the world to boast such an instrument. Not difficult to see why: the greater the automation, the greater the vehicle reliability must necessarily be. The Commission summarizes the concept combining two slogans: Autonomous but safe, and safety requires other collateral initiatives such as harmonizing traffic laws, improving the general state of the roads and signs as well as cyber security.

The future seems rosy, as the Commission itself points out, when mentioning the advantages that smart mobility can bring, for example, to people with disabilities; but at the same time ups and downs are expected, i.e. reduced demand for truck drivers and the consequent social need for retraining the category. On the other hand, such technology will generate a whole series of innovative services bound to create added value as well as high and medium-high level job opportunities.

Equally interesting, though, is to note that at the end of the document a certain amount of embarrassment can be detected when trying to hypothesize a final balance of such a revolution. That is to say: everything will be fine but who can tell? Obviously, as with any revolution there will be some who win and some who lose but one thing is certain, like it or not, it will happen and "Europe must seize the opportunity to be a leader".


The European Commission reviews the Machinery Directive

Most of us will remember the impact that the Machinery Directive 2006/42 / EC had at the time of its introduction in 2006, when, as part of the CE marking procedure, the European Commission considered it appropriate to issue a comprehensive Directive on safety criteria relating to workshop equipment with the aim of freeing the circulation of compliant products within the Union. The Directive introduced a series of standard measures that, though seemingly complex and difficult to interpret at the time, turned out to be beneficial for those operators that adapted their business to the said Directive and enjoyed the guarantees that the Directive itself provides.
This is the case, for example, of car and truck lifts, traditionally more vulnerable than others items to safety issues. A recent study by Prosafe examined hundreds of lift installed in various EU countries. Well, thanks to the regulatory framework introduced by the Machinery Directive, inspectors have been able to ascertain the conformity of the products and sanction non-conformities in about forty cases.

About ten years after issuing the Directive, the technical staff of the European Commission considered it appropriate to proceed with an evaluation of the suitability of the same to new products and new technologies currently available or in the pipeline.

The result of the study was positive in many ways, in fact the number and vastness of European harmonized standards, over 700, have facilitated the application of the Directive on each specific product. An example of these harmonized standards relate to the work currently being done on garage lifts, on roller brake testers for trucks as well as tire changers, with Cuna / Uni's commitment for Italy and the support of AICA manufacturers.

As revealed by the study, the economic impact of the Directive was impressive: taking 2015 as a reference year, the garage machinery sector in Europe accounted for a volume of about 650 billion euro with over 2.9 million workers employed in about 90 thousand companies, mainly in Italy and Germany. As far as Italy is concerned, if we consider the total export figure of 108 billion euro, of which 51% out of the EU, and compare it to imports for 63 billion euro the trade balance scores an impressive + 58%. Equally significant are the investments made by the sector: around 13 billion euro across the EU with Italy second only to Germany.

The effectiveness of the Directive on safety at work was also supported by the reduction of accidents in work places - 46% between 2008 and 2013.

But it’s not all a bed of roses, especially when we consider on-site inspections, and notice that data are poor and highly irregular. The same report defines the inspections carried out as "insufficient, ineffective and, at times, absurd": note that inspections costs the EU a meagre 2.3 million euro/year which corresponds to a tiny fraction of the entire market .

A further delicate matter is the possibility to apply the Directive to emerging technologies such as robotics, Internet of Things and AI. The study points out how these technologies do fall within the scope of the Directive, however it also notes, with a little embarrassment, that a great deal of new standards will have to be harmonized  given the amount of new technologies and their application expected in the near future. According to a survey, 53% of the respondents believe that the Directive is more or less capable of supporting technological innovation, while concerns rise over the whole business ecosystem with 20% of the respondents who believe that the Directive should be updated. The European Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska commented on the study's conclusions: "we are happy to see that the existing legislation is fit for the purpose in a changing world. This makes European products safe and competitive. Technology changes quickly so we will continue to monitor the situation and we’ll be ready to act if the need arises".

In our opinion, the need is already there and has to do with proper inspections; "insufficient, ineffective and, at times, absurd" inspections may induce some to adopt behaviours that are tantamount to unfair competition, with fatal consequences for safety and free movement of goods. Member States’ inspection authorities, therefore, are called upon to take immediate action to protect employment and investments in the sector.

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