Massive technological transformation in the world during 2019 has had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on the automotive industry, specifically the motor body repair and short term motor Insurance sectors.
Artificial Intelligence, Electrification, Virtual/Augmented Reality, Block chain and Increasingly Connected Vehicles are five of the main trends that will alter the repair and insurance industry.
During 2019, these sectors saw the introduction of electric and hybrid vehicles. The rate of change in design in vehicles is significant for the MBR sector because of the new electronic, digital components and of course, the electrification. “The industry has no choice but to adapt but in South Africa,” says Richard Green, National Director of the South African Motor Body Repairers Association (SAMBRA). “We don’t always have the quick response from an OEM perspective which our colleagues have in Europe in terms of access to product information and training.”
He says this time lag is concerning. Many of the electric and hybrid vehicles are currently repaired by the manufacturers or a very limited number of trained MBRs, but in time many will also need to be repaired by the MBRs with the necessary skillset. “We urgently need to start developing new learning programmes for existing and new entrants into the sector so they can be introduced to this new technology at an early stage,” says Green.
We live in an ever evolving world. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is already impacting motor body repairers in the form of photo estimating, for example and we may soon see the introduction of virtual training. Researchers at Tradiebot Industries and Deakin University are in fact currently working together to develop the motor body and automotive repair industry’s first virtual/augmented reality training and service solution.
This project will be responsible for developing a training system that will redefine the way information, communication and training is delivered for existing repairers and those seeking a career in the industry.
Like many trades, the MBR sector is facing a serious shortfall of skilled talent and an ever-widening skills gap as repair businesses struggle to keep up with the latest OEM repair methods and industry best practice. Ben Horan, Director of the CADET VR Lab at Deakin University, said that this type of immersive reality provides an opportunity for those interested in joining the motor body repair industry to overcome some of the skills training challenges in the sector.
“Virtual Reality can provide access to training environments which are either difficult to access or don’t exist, and Augmented Reality can help provide digital assistance while performing a task,” says Horan.
In addition, the company is also researching the use of plastics and carbon fibre to determine if it’s possible to supply on-demand 3D printed parts. The company is currently working with motor body repair industry partners to create a more efficient and cost-effective method for manufacturing parts that are unavailable to be bought separate, out of stock or discontinued.
And it is not only advances in technology that the sector needs to come to grips with. Materials like composites, high-strength steel and aluminum are already in use but now we are seeing the introduction of graphene, an ultra-light weight and immensely strong material that is capturing world-wide interest. Green says graphene is 200 times tougher than steel, incredibly thin and flexible, a superb conductor, and can offer a solid barrier. “As production and processing of graphene has advanced, the automotive industries are eager to establish supplies, integrate graphene into existing processes, and explore new uses of graphene in a multitude of automotive applications including electronics, thermal management and structural uses.”
From an RMI perspective, RMI president Jeanne Esterhuizen says the organisation is busy working with merSETA and all role players to design a qualification for the repair of hybrid and electric vehicles. “At RMI we are proactively preparing the industry for repairing vehicles with new technologies,” she says.
Unfortunately registering new or revising existing qualifications takes time in South Africa because of the way our system is structured. Esterhuizen says there is no direct flow of information from OEM to industry and as such it takes time to get everyone on board and all stakeholders in agreement. “Much progress has already been made. It is not only post school that we need to look at however. Our training needs must be addressed in primary school as well. The good news is codification is already being piloted from grade 4 in a school in the Free State,” she says.
She says it is important to close the gap in training and in this regard, commends the Department of Higher Education on their willingness to address this through the implementation of their Centres of Specialisation project which includes identified TVET colleges and industry partners.
“Insurer representatives also need to be trained on the technology in these different vehicles,” says Esterhuizen. “Ultimately we need buy-in from all role players, as historically the insurers have been the missing link.” She says fortunately this gap has been closed by registering a Vehicle Damage Quantification qualification which includes both the job content of Estimation in the motor body repair environment and Insurance Assessing in the insurance sector. This qualification will be regulated by a newly registered professional body called the Vehicle Damage Quantifier Governing Body of South Africa. Both industry and insurers are represented in the VDQBSA.
The introduction of new technologies is forcing all industry sectors to adapt in order to provide and maintain client service levels. As the complexity of these vehicles increases, motor body repair shops will have to invest time and money in training, obtaining factory certifications and investing in specialized equipment.
Green says motor body repair shops will have to decide whether they will continue to rely on the large number of older vehicles on the road or accept the technological changes that’ are impacting the industry. “Considering the average car on the road is approximately 10 years old, the majority of body shops shouldn’t have to worry about having to adapt in the short term. Specialist MBRs who are structured to, and traditionally service, the more technologically sophisticated vehicles will need to adapt faster however,” concludes Green.