BMW and SAP build data platform for the automotive industry

Concept of a self-driving car

Data is of central importance for the future of the automotive industry – whether for autonomous driving or improving sustainability. The archive picture shows a mobility study.


(Photo: dpa)

Berlin, Munich, Düsseldorf How much CO2 is produced in the production of an SUV? And in which models are defective parts installed? These are pressing questions for automakers. The BMW-Group is looking for ways to make its supply chains faster, more transparent and more secure.

The automaker has therefore worked with the software company SAP, the Deutsche Telekom and its most important suppliers established an alliance for a “cross-company data exchange”, as the companies announced on Tuesday at the German government’s digital summit.

From next year onwards, the alliance partners want to start building cross-industry data transfer across the entire value chain, ideally from raw material extraction to the finished product. The cloud platform, which is to be based on the standards of the European cloud initiative Gaia-X, will be open to other partners, emphasize BMW and SAP. The alliance wants to involve small and medium-sized companies in particular. The first use cases should be available in six to eight months.

“Data is of enormous importance in the automotive industry and for the car itself,” said BMW boss Oliver Zipse during a panel discussion at the digital summit. In the course of Industry 4.0, it is already common practice to network factories and machines. The “next logical step” would be to extend this to entire industries and value chains. The aim is to set a new industry standard throughout Germany and Europe with the Automotive Alliance.

The data exchange in the areas of quality management, logistics, maintenance, supply chain management and sustainability should start. The latter in particular employs BMW: the car company has set itself the goal of reducing carbon dioxide emissions in production by 80 percent and in the supply chain by 20 percent by 2030. In July, CEO Zipse announced that sustainability would be part of the investment story.

Evidence of ethical standards in raw material extraction is also gaining in importance. So far, BMW has only been able to keep this promise up to its own factory gate. In future, only those who comply with these criteria and can document them will be allowed to deliver to BMW. Evidence should be provided via the new data platform.

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In a second step, the data exchange should produce a “digital twin” of every car. These digital profiles are an important prerequisite for accelerating future product developments. BMW has already replaced some of its test drives with simulations.

By exchanging data with the suppliers, the digital image of the cars should become even more precise. In addition, wear and possible repairs can be better predicted using the twin. The renewal of software and possible new business areas can also be implemented more easily, according to BMW.

In corporate circles it is emphasized that the initiative should be introduced globally, but that it needs partners. BMW is one of the largest industrial buyers in Germany, but the industry is dominated by mass manufacturers Volkswagen, Toyota and General Motorsthat each have three times the volume of purchases. In Munich one hopes that one of the greats will join. The initiative is an industry standard, not a closed system.

The data platform is also a way of making yourself a little more independent from the large US software companies that have agreed large cloud projects with every German car company. BMW had in 2019 Microsoft allied to build an “Open Manufacturing Platform”. In this project, all BMW factories are networked with a uniform system.

Confusing data policy of the federal government

For SAP, this is likely to be a prestige project: the software manufacturer intends to invest more in special applications for individual industries in the future; in Walldorf this is known as the “Industry Cloud”. The actors are also hoping that digitalization will provide greater security against failure – the corona pandemic has created particular sensitivity for this. You need transparency “down to the individual raw material,” said SAP boss Christian Klein. “This not only makes supply chains more resilient, it also significantly reduces storage costs.” The participants have so far collected more than 40 use cases. The software manufacturer sees itself as an ideal partner: 75 percent of all transactions in the automotive industry already run through SAP applications, said Klein. “We at SAP are, so to speak, an open digital post office, together with other technology partners such as Siemens and T-Systems.”
Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) sees the project as confirmation of his Gaia-X initiative: “This is a qualitative step forward – everyone can see how Gaia-X works in practice and that it works.” The federal government will Support the new alliance financially, especially medium-sized companies. “I can promise that we will accompany the project to the extent necessary and necessary so that it gets off the ground quickly and we set international standards.”

The success of the platform is likely to depend on how many companies participate: the supply chain in the automotive industry is highly complex, and thousands of suppliers have to take part for seamless follow-up. With the help of the Federal Ministry of Economics (BMWi), the alliance aims to target medium-sized companies: The authority has created clusters for the topic of Industry 4.0.

However, the action raises questions about the federal government’s data policy. On the one hand, Federal Minister of Economics Peter Altmaier (CDU) is committed to the Gaia-X project. Federal Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) is building a mobility data room at the behest of Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU), which is based on the infrastructure of the International Data Spaces Association (IDSA). The mobility data room is being supported with tax money of 18 million euros.

As it was said in government circles, there is a real race – in which Minister Scheuer has so far been ahead. According to information from government circles in the Handelsblatt, BMW in particular has been “on the brakes” in the mobility data room in recent weeks and months. Meanwhile get involved Daimler and Volkswagen. The Wolfsburg-based car manufacturer even wants to become a partner in the data room, which is to be founded as a non-profit company by the Academy of Engineering Sciences (Acatech) by March.

VW sees itself on the way “towards becoming a software-driven mobility provider”. To this end, the group is building its own data marketplace. This is a prerequisite “in order to participate in higher-level platforms such as the mobility data room,” explained a spokeswoman for Handelsblatt.

Here Technologies, the data platform of Audi, BMW and Daimler; the mobility provider Free Now, in which BMW and Daimler are involved, the Deutsche Bahn AG, the German Weather Service, the Federal Highway Research Institute or the Hessian road administration Hessen mobil.

Anyone who does not want to become a partner can conclude framework agreements for participation and data usage agreements. According to information from the Handelsblatt, these will be sent from circles of those involved this week. Acatech also wants to find a private operator of the data room by the summer. In October, the first applications are to be presented at the World Congress for Telematics Services (ITS) in Hamburg.

More: Lidl mother will start her cloud platform in early 2021.

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