Safety Tests Delay GM Self-Driving Cars; Company Still Cites Progress on Cruise

USA Today

July 31, 2019

By Jamie L. LaReau


General Motors is delaying the launch of its self-driving cars citing the challenge to safely remove people from behind the wheel.


About 18 months ago, the automaker had promised that its self-driving unit, GM Cruise, would launch a fleet of autonomous vehicles in the form of a ride-sharing service by the end of this year.


But in a blog post Wednesday, GM Cruise CEO Dan Ammann said while the automaker has made strides in hiring key talent and gaining the financial backing needed to continue testing the cars, in order to reach the level of performance and safety validation required to deploy a fully driverless service in San Francisco, we will be significantly increasing our testing and validation miles over the balance of this year, which has the effect of carrying the timing of fully driverless deployment beyond the end of the year.


The additional testing will provide GM Cruise with crucial operational learnings from running a larger scale fleet and ride service, which it currently runs for its employees, said Ammann.


It also means San Francisco residents will see more of the Cruise AVs on the roads being tested, he said. Cruise owns nearly 40% of all of the electric vehicle fast chargers in San Francisco, he said. It is building the largest EV fast charger station in the country there.


GM bought GM Cruise in 2016. Since then, it has been aggressively testing the electric self-driving vehicles in San Francisco and rapidly expanded. It has grown from a staff of 40 people to nearly 1,500, Ammann said in the blog, hiring top engineers.


Cruise also has raised about $7.25 billion from technology investors such as the SoftBank Vision Fund and T. Rowe Price and GM and Honda.


This gives us the deep resources necessary to scale our services in San Francisco and beyond, Ammann wrote.


Still, auto industry experts had expressed doubt this year that GM Cruise could safely put self-driving taxis on the road by the end of this year.


But despite GM idling five of its plants in North America this year and cutting about 14,000 hourly and salaried jobs to save $6 billion by 2020, its commitment to electric and autonomous vehicle technology has been unwavering. GM leaders often refer to GMs desire to be a technology company that builds cars, creating a future with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion.


In February, GM CEO Mary Barra said that GM continues to make rapid progress with the technology when asked if GM would launch a fleet of self-driving cars by year end.


Pressed again for a launch date in April after GM reported earnings, Barra said: I think youll see updates later this year. We are very pleased with where were at on our continued rate of progress. Were doing our testing in one of the most complex environments in the U.S. (San Francisco). We have a very strong position and we have a very strong safety record.


In his blog, Ammann said that GM is uniquely positioned to be a leader in the self-driving space. The company is running neck-and-neck with Waymo, a subsidiary of Google, to be the first to bring the robot car ride sharing to market. The two companies are considered the leaders in a crowded field, and San Francisco is the proving grounds to refine the technology.


But, wrote Ammann, Cruise is the only company with self-driving cars that are manufactured on a large scale automotive assembly line to the same rigorous standards of safety and quality as any other production car.


GM builds the Cruise AV cars at its Orion Assembly Plant in Lake Orion, Michigan. The first Cruise AVs were Chevrolet Bolts, Chevrolets all-electric vehicle, that used two Lidar sensors on the roof. GM Cruise built 130 of the second-generation of its AVs in 2017 and those had a bigger suite of sensors. Then, later that year, it added another 50 of the cars. GM no longer calls them Bolts, but rather the Cruise AV.


This is not a concept carhundreds of the best Honda, GM and Cruise engineers are working together on-site in Warren, Michigan, where they are deep into the vehicle development process, wrote Ammann. This new vehicle completely re-imagines from the ground up what a car can be and we cant wait to share more in the near future.


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Boeing’s Dreamliner Plant Is Said to Face Federal Inquiry

New York Times

July 1, 2019

By Natalie Kitroeff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg


The Department of Justice, which has been looking into problems with Boeings 737 Max jet, has broadened its investigation to include the production of the companys 787 Dreamliner, according to two people familiar with the matter.


Federal prosecutors recently subpoenaed Boeing for documents related to production processes at the Dreamliner plant in North Charleston, S.C., the people said.


In April, the New York Times detailed allegations of shoddy work and flawed quality control at the factory that threatened to compromise safety. The article, based on hundreds of pages of internal emails, company documents and federal records, revealed that debris was regularly left inside aircraft. A ladder was found in a planes tail and a stray bolt in an engine.


Several employees said that in the rush to complete jets on time, managers ignored safety concerns raised by workers.


The Federal Aviation Administration confirmed three safety complaints lodged by employees at the plant since September, according to an FAA official and an internal agency email.


Boeing declined to comment on the inquiry by the Justice Department. The investigation into the Dreamliner was reported by the Seattle Times.


Federal prosecutors and investigators at the Department of Transportations inspector general have been looking into the development of the Max after two of the jets crashed within five months, killing 346 people. The new focus on the Dreamliner is a sign that the investigation is widening into engineering development and production at Boeing factories in Washington State and South Carolina.


A month after the New York Times article, the executive in charge of the troubled plant, David Carbon, stepped down. An internal Boeing memo said Mr. Carbon was leaving to care for his family after several years as vice president for 787 operations at Boeing South Carolina.


Many of the employees said Mr. Carbon had fostered a culture that at times made speed a priority over safety.


An inspector for American Airlines found so much debris inside Dreamliners made at the plant that he began collecting it in small plastic storage bags to show Mr. Carbon. The inspector once discovered a bolt inside an engine of a plane that had gone up for a test flight. He also found Bubble Wrap near the pedal that pilots used to control the planes rudder.


In response to the allegations, Boeing said its planes go through multiple safety tests before they begin flying.


Boeing and the FAA implement a rigorous inspection process to ensure that all our airplanes are safe and built with the highest levels of quality, Gordon Johndroe, a Boeing spokesman, said.


But current and former employees at the plant told the Times that it had been plagued by problems for nearly a decade. They described metal shavings being left underneath floorboards, near critical electrical systems that control the Dreamliner. A ladder and a string of lights were left inside tails, dangerously close to the gears that control the horizontal stabilizer. Defective parts have been installed on airplanes.


Officials believe that the metal shavings may have caused damage to an airplane that was already in service in 2012, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.


The FAA is also investigating an incident in which a manager at the Charleston plant inappropriately pressured an employee involved in certification. The Boeing employee is a member of a team designated by the FAA to help certify aircraft.


In a letter sent to Boeing on June 6, the FAA said that the employee experienced interference from management. The letter, portions of which were reviewed by The Times, also said that rules for delegating certification to Boeing are not being followed, or alternatively are being subverted.


Boeing production managers are not allowed to intervene in the work of employees who are supposed to represent the FAA At the Charleston plant, the employee had two managers, one within the designee program and another outside it, according to FAA documents. Such a reporting structure is typically considered a violation of agency rules.


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Apple Recalls Some MacBook Pro Laptops Due to Fire Hazard

Press of Atlantic City

July 1, 2019

Apple is recalling some MacBook Pro laptops due to a fire hazard.


The batteries in the laptops can overheat, posing a safety risk. The recalled MacBook Pros have a screen that measures 15-inches diagonally and were sold between September 2015 through February 2017 in the U.S. and Canada starting at about $2,000.


Apple, in Cupertino, California, said it has gotten 26 reports about overheating, including five reports of minor burns and one report of smoke inhalation. There have also been 17 reports of minor damage to nearby personal property. The recall involves 432,000 laptops sold in the U.S. and 26,000 sold in Canada.


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BMW Group Uses Artificial Intelligence in Series Production

Just-Auto

July 16, 2019

By Dave Leggett


BMW says it is using artificial intelligence (AI) in its quality control and monitoring systems in automotive production.


Since 2018, the BMW Group says it has been using various AI applications in series production. One focus is automated image recognition. In these processes, artificial intelligence evaluates component images in ongoing production and compares them in milliseconds to hundreds of other images of the same sequence. This way, the AI application determines deviations from the standard in real time and checks, for instance, whether all required parts have been mounted and whether they are mounted in the right place.


The innovative technology is fast, reliable and, most importantly, easy to use. Christian Patron, head of innovation, digitalization and data analytics at BMW Group Production says: Artificial intelligence offers great potential. It helps us maintain our high quality standards and at the same time relieves our people of repetitive tasks.


At the BMW Group, flexible, cost-effective, AI-based applications are gradually replacing permanently installed camera portals. The implementation, BMW maintains, is rather simple. A mobile standard camera is all that is needed to take the relevant pictures in production. The AI solution can be set up quickly too: Employees take pictures of the component from different angles and mark potential deviations on the images. This way, they create an image database in order to build a so-called neural network, which can later evaluate the images without human intervention. Employees do not have to write code; the algorithm does that virtually on its own. At the training stage, which may mean overnight, a high-performance server calculates the neural network from around 100 images, and the network immediately starts optimizing. After a test run and possibly some adjustments, the reliability reaches 100%. The learning process is completed and the neural network can now determine on its own whether or not a component meets the specifications.


Even moving objects are reliably identified largely independent of factors such as lighting in the production area or the exact camera position. This opens up a wide range of potential applications along the entire automotive process chain, including logistics. In many cases, the AI technology relieves employees of repetitive, monotonous tasks such as checking whether the warning triangle is in the right place in the trunk or whether the windscreen wiper cap has been put on.


Artificial intelligence can also perform more demanding inspection tasks


In the final inspection area at the BMW Groups Dingolfing plant, an AI application compares the vehicle order data with a live image of the model designation of the newly produced car. Model designations and other identification plates such as xDrive for four-wheel drive vehicles as well as all generally approved combinations are stored in the image database. If the live image and order data dont correspond, for example if a designation is missing, the final inspection team receives a notification.


Christian Patronn adds, We rely entirely on the experience and expertise of our employees in these efforts. They can judge best at which production steps an AI application may improve quality and efficiency. We deliberately keep the setup and implementation of such applications simple. Their operation requires no advanced IT proficiency.


AI eliminates pseudo-defects


At the press shop, flat sheet metal parts are turned into high-precision components for the car body. Dust particles or oil residues that remain on the components after forming can easily be confused with very fine cracks, which occur in rare cases during the process. Previous camera-based quality control systems at the BMW Groups plant in Dingolfing, Germany, occasionally also marked these pseudo-defects: deviations from the target, even though there was no actual fault. With the new AI application, these pseudo-defects no longer occur because the neural network can access around 100 real images per featurei.e. around 100 images of the perfect component, 100 images with dust particles, another 100 images with oil droplets on the component, etc. This is particularly relevant in the case of the visually close calls that have previously led to pseudo-defects.


The BMW Groups Steyr plant and the BMW Group Data Analytics Team are also successfully working on eliminating pseudo-defects. Presumed irregularities in torque measurement in the engine cold test later often turn out to be insignificant. Before introducing the AI solution, however, such results led to complex manual inspections and further test runs, up to and including hot tests with fuel. The analysis software was trained based on many recorded test runs and thus learned to distinguish between actual and presumed errors.


AI in control: Integrating artificial intelligence with facility and robot control systems


The first smart AI control application at the BMW Group celebrated its premiere at the BMW Groups Steyr plant. This application speeds up logistics processes by preventing unnecessary transports of empties on conveyor belts. To this end, the containers pass through a camera station. Using stored image data marked by employees, the AI application recognizes whether the container needs to be lashed onto a pallet or whether in the case of large, stable boxes no additional securing is required. If no lashing is required, the AI application directs a container by the shortest route to the removal station for the forklift truck. Containers that must be additionally secured, on the other hand, are guided directly to the conveyor section with the lashing system and only then to the removal station located behind. Previously, all containers had to be transported to the removal station for large containers. From there, the containers that required additional securing had to be forwarded and would only reach the lashing facility and finally the correct removal station after taking this detour.


Besides the application in Steyr, AI is behind numerous other logistics innovations at the BMW Group. It also supports virtual layout planning, which creates high-resolution 3D scans of buildings and factories. Artificial intelligence ultimately contributes to the recognition of individual objects in the 3D scan, such as containers, building structures or machines. This allows engineers to remove individual objects from the 3D scan in the 3D planning software and to modify these individually, which makes it easier to simulate and understand adaptations on the shop floor.


There is already a distinct trend toward using AI applications at the BMW Groups plants. The increasing integration of smart data analytics, state-of-the-art measurement technology and AI opens up new opportunities in production management. At the body shop, for instance, images from the final inspection may show that weld metal has sprayed out at the same welding point in several car bodies. Using AI, the control loop can thus be closed and system control or maintenance cycles be adjusted even faster and more efficiently. At the paint shops, AI and analytics applications offer the potential to detect sources of error at such an early stage that errors can hardly occur any more: If no dust attaches to the car body before painting in the first place, none has to be polished off later.


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Could 3D Printing Lead to Distributed Manufacturing?

States News Service

July 15, 2019

By Emily Durham and Lucas Grasha


Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing, is a game-changer for the field of manufacturing, enabling significant savings of cost, time and materials. In traditional manufacturing, parts are manufactured in large quantities at centralized factories, then shipped out to consumers. But with the growth of AM, many wonder whether this technology will cause a shift from this centralized model to a more distributed model, in which facilities in different locations coordinate to fill manufacturing needs.


A team of researchers from Carnegie Mellon Universitys Department of Engineering and Public Policy (EPP) and the University of Lisbon investigated how AM could contribute to distributed manufacturing. They examined whether AM will disrupt this central model, specifically in the context of spare parts for the aviation industry, where being able to quickly print parts instead of stockpiling them would be attractive.


Our results suggest that 3D printing may not be as conducive to distributed manufacturing as some might hope, said Parth Vaishnav, an assistant research professor in EPP and member of the Next Manufacturing Center. Vaishnav and his colleagues also suggest in a recent paper in the journal Additive Manufacturing that it is more suitable for non-critical parts that do not need to be expensively processed after they emerge from the AM machine.


Research Engineer Parth Vaishnav in the Department of Engineering and Public Policy discusses greenhouse gas emissions from civil aviation, 3D printing parts used by airlines, and the damage done to the atmosphere by carbon dioxide.


The team also includes Erica Fuchs, a professor in EPP; Joana Mendona, professor at the University of Lisbon; Jaime Bonnn Roca, who was a Ph.D. student in EPP when the study began, and is now an assistant professor of innovation and entrepreneurship at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands; and Ria Laureijs, a Ph.D. student in EPP.


This research is part of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal Program, an international partnership with Carnegie Mellon and the Government of Portugal where CMU and Portuguese universities, research institutions and companies collaborate on education, research and innovation.


The team points out that the discussion around AMs potential role in changing manufacturing practice have been exaggerated in some contexts, especially if one considers its economics. In manufacturing, a company chooses whether to site its factories nearer or farther from their markets and customers, which affects shipping and stockpiling costs. While decentralized AM close to where products are needed may reduce the need to carry inventory, the very expensive machines that are sometimes needed to process parts after they emerge from 3D printing may still favor centralized manufacturing.


To figure out how a slew of influences might shape 3D printing in industry, the research team used cost and location models to estimate supply chain costs in aviation, an industry that already 3D prints some parts. The team found that conventional, centralized manufacturing would likely remain more cost-effective when compared to distributed. Decentralized manufacturing would become attractive only if production volumes increased or part processing needs decreased.


The researchers chose to focus their research on non-critical spare parts, since the Federal Aviation Administration, which ensures the safety of the U.S. air system, only requires that such parts be equivalent to existing ones and meet necessary safety requirements. A crucial assumption in the analysis is that many different types of parts could be printed on a single 3D printing machine.


The team concluded that decentralizing manufacturing would make economic sense for non-critical spare parts with combined annual production volumes in the 10,000s.


The model suggests that this logic is unlikely to change even if the 3D printers themselves become much cheaper or faster. If the 3D printers improved enough that post-processing steps could be eliminated, then decentralized manufacturing would be economical at lower volumesbut these would still be in the tens of thousands. Cheaper machines would also mean that labor will become a larger proportion of total costs. This could be mitigated by automating the machines, which in turn could affect employment.


Additive manufacturing has enormous potential for good, and the researchers encourage companies and policymakers to take it seriously. They should, however, not assume that it goes hand in hand with distributed manufacturing.


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Sales Down for Detroit Three, But Prices Rising

The Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville, FL)

July 15, 2019

By Jamie L. Lareau


Auto sales slowed in the first half of 2019 compared with a year earlier and industry experts say the back half of the year could be bumpy and unpredictable.


The good news for automakers is their new vehicles are commanding higher prices from consumers, reaching new record levels.


The Detroit Three weathered trade wars and tariffs, job cuts, factory idling and rising costs of new technology through June. The first-half sales results were mixed, with the Detroit Threes total sales down, mitigated by strong sales in pickups and SUVs.


Industry experts say sales will continue to slow and market disruptors could surface that will likely lead to lower annual car sales this year versus last year.


If the first half was volatile, are you expecting the second half to be calm? said Cox Automotive Chief Economist Jonathan Smoke. Youd be out of your mind, just considering the number of things facing the economy and the auto market combined.


For the quarter, Ford sales, including its luxury brand Lincoln, declined by 4.1% to 650,336 vehicles and sales through June are down 2.9% to 1.24 million. The results were supported by strong pickup sales and a 1.3% gain in Lincoln sales through June.


Ford saw its biggest decline come in the car segment where, year-to-date, sales are down 22.5% compared with the same period last year. But its pickup sales are up 5.9%. Sales of the F-Series through June were flat at 448,398, but heavy-duty pickups saw a 52.8% increase.


For the automakers total sales year-to-date, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles reported a dip of 2% to 1.1 million vehicles compared with the first half of 2018. General Motors reported a 4.2% decline in total sales to 1.4 million vehicles sold.


Among other automakers reporting sales on July 2, Nissan Group, which includes its luxury brand Infiniti, reported year-to-date sales down 8.2% to 717,036. Likewise, Toyota Motors North America, which includes Lexus, reported its sales through June down 3.1% to 1.15 million. Subaru reported its sales are up 5.2% to 339,525 through June. American Honda reported, through June, its sales dropped 1.4% to 776,995.


Automakers saw transaction prices on both cars and light trucks continue to rise and set records so far this year.


In fact, Ford said its transactions prices in the second-quarter were up for pickups and SUVs compared with the year-ago period. The average transaction price for an F-Series pickup was $47,500, up $1,200 from the year earlier.


According to the latest National Automobile Dealers Association Average Dealership Financial Profile Series from April 2019, the average new-vehicle transaction price was $36,642, up 3.3% compared with the year-ago period. Transaction prices on used vehicles sold by franchised dealers, on average, rose 3.8% to $20,979.


The average monthly payment gap between new and used vehicles continues to widen, which NADA said will likely push consumers to the used market.


Pickups and SUV sales remain a bright spot for automakers, said Tyson Jominy, vice president of data and analytics Consulting at J.D. Power. That, along with rising transaction prices, means more profitable sales even as volume declines.


Total automaker revenues are expected to be up over 1% compared with the prior year, largely driven by a 4% growth in average transaction prices, Jominy said.


But its at the lowest end of the market where there is the most dramatic story, Jominy said. Year-to-date, he said, sales for vehicles with transaction prices below $20,000 are off 21% after falling 19% in 2018. But for vehicles priced $30,000 to $50,000, sales are up 5% and those priced over $50,000, sales are up 9%.


GM believes the industry will sell a healthy 17 million units this year, said GMs Chief Economist Elaine Buckberg.


The U.S. economy continues to grow at a healthy pace. Jobs are plentiful and inflation remains low, said Buckberg. Auto demand was better than anticipated in the first half and we expect strong performance in the second half of the year. If the Fed cuts rates, as widely expected, lower financing costs will provide further support to auto sales.


But Cox Automotive predicts carmakers will sell substantially fewer new cars for the year. It estimates auto sales will be 16.8 million new cars, down from the 17.3 million purchased last year amid unstable markets and political, economic and labor uncertainties.


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One in Three Employers Admit ‘Company Culture Is Causing Stress’

Cover

July 29, 2019

By Adam Saville


New research has revealed that 57% of employers realize they have to increase the focus on helping staff build resilience at work and only 40% believe they are doing enough.


Meanwhile, nearly two out of three (66%) employers questioned said organizational resilience has to come from the top.


According to the report by MetLife, entitled Mental Health and Stress: Building Employee Resilience in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, found that more than a third (34%) of employers were aware of stress being caused within their own workplace.


The research also showed differing views between employees and employers regarding workplace expectationsjust 37% of employees believe their employer was honest at recruitment stage about job demands, while more than half (56%) of HR leaders believe that stress risks are made clear.


Progress is being made, however, the report suggested, with 64% of employees saying that their organization offered support, compared to MetLifes 51% finding in 2014.


What employees feel is real, and despite views from management that they are taking action, it is clear that more needs to be done, said Adrian Matthews, employee benefits director at MetLife. This shouldnt deter employers. Whilst some programs come with a cost, many initiatives can be created and implemented that do not.


He added that the report found that 84% said employers lacked clarity on best practice to address mental health issues in the workplace. It may be that the explosion of interest in the topic is leading employers into inaction, and this is a very clear opportunity for employee benefits consultants, in tandem with insurance providers to step up and help, he said.


Management


Sir Kenneth Olisa, OBE, who wrote the foreword to the report, added: Workplace stress management isnt just a matter of social justice, it is also a matter of competitive advantage. The practical advice in this report is a good basis for a strategy to change the way we work.


He said having a three- to five-year objective is crucial. The message of MetLife UKs report is cleardont relegate stress management policies to the appendices of your employee handbook, he concluded. Bring the topic to the front and encourage everyone to read it and to act upon it.


The report also focuses on the role of the line manager and the usage of employee assistance programs (EAP). It recommends organizations should enhance communications and ensure employees are awards of support available within their workplace.


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