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Do it right, and you’ll make money. Do it wrong, and you’ll disappear.

Start slow, but start now

Haydar Vural, Chief Digital Officer, Karsan Automotive

Q: What does Karsan Automotive do?

A: Karsan designs and manufactures electric, hydrogen, and autonomous buses, from six meters to 18 meters long. We sell them in Japan, the United States, Canada, and all of Europe, including Türkiye.

We’ve also provided manufacturing services to companies such as Hyundai and Peugeot, and right now, we have a manufacturing partnership with Renault.

Q: What's your mission as Karsan’s Chief Digital Officer?

A: I’m responsible for using digital technologies to ensure that Karsan is competitive, has very good brand awareness, and manufactures high-quality buses. Our business model is very different from that of traditional car manufacturers. Each municipality or government transport institution wants buses specially designed for them – not standard ones. So, we have to be digitally flexible and strong, and our quality has to be top level.

Q: What difference has smart manufacturing made to your production process?

A: To be a smart manufacturer, you first have to collect data, from your Tier 1 suppliers to your manufacturing plants and after-sales services. You have to gather data when the bus travels around, so you can learn about the product, then reflect the lessons back into the new products you’re designing. If you don't manage your data, you’ll suffer delivery delays and supply chain shortages. When we make a promise to a customer, we have to keep it.

Q: And how is Huawei helping you in that process?

A: We have a strong partnership with Huawei. They provide IT infrastructure – for example, we run our applications on their servers and store our data in their equipment, maintained locally, which makes it secure and accessible at the same time. Security is critical for us. Ransomware attacks, for instance, are a serious problem for lots of manufacturing companies. Criminals attack them, rather than targeting the banks, financial institutions, or insurance companies with a stronger cybersecurity culture.

Q: They’re potentially the weak link.

A: Right. But Huawei ensures that our customers have ransomware protection automatically. We’re also planning investments in computer networks, wired and wireless networks, and our data center. In Türkiye, for example, Huawei has a wonderful local presence, always listening and seeking to ensure the best customer experience. Just comparing cost and performance versus their competitors, I can honestly say Huawei is a top performer. And their long-term vision to develop the products makes them unique: their second biggest R&D team after China is in Türkiye. This also makes us very happy.

Q: What is your ambition for the company five years from now?

A: Well the amount of data created within our existing buses is enormous. We have to capture that, filter it, send it to a cloud, then process it for after-sales service.

The R&D life cycle of the buses is very, very long, so you need that working product data to shorten your design time, keep your costs down, and stay competitive. There are, for example, significant performance differences depending on the environment in which an electric vehicle is operating. Driving in the Swiss Alps is quite different than driving in Saudi Arabia.

Also, even small-town authorities want a customized bus product, and this customization can only be achieved through smart manufacturing and information-gathering from the working product. This is our focus.

Q: What are the challenges to going down this smart manufacturing road?

A: First, it’s not cheap. But if you don't invest, you will be out of business. So, you don't have an option, and therefore you could argue it’s not expensive.

Second, beginners or those unfamiliar with IoT and smart manufacturing are sometimes just following fashion, or trying to target niche markets instead of focusing on core business objectives. This isn’t the way. My advice for someone new in this business is choose the right partner and start slow (but don't wait another two years to invest).

Instantly establish a core team in your company and, when making a transformation like this, understand the three key elements: your people and culture; the technology; and the business outcomes. Change that order, and it won't give you the results.

If you just invest half a million euros and buy some products, but without the right technical people to transform that into business outcomes, then you’re doing nothing. Unfortunately, I have seen so many instances like that, and they’ve not been good investments.

Smart manufacturing has to be combined with AI, to predict the life cycle of your machinery, your battery lifetime, etc. It’s about collecting data and investing in technology, but also about focusing on profitable projects, not the tiny ones or the Proof of Concepts. Do it right, and you’ll make money. Do it wrong, and you’ll disappear.

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