- Embracing technology to address labor shortages and drive digital transformation in manufacturing -
UD Trucks and Kobe Steel have reached an agreement to conduct an autonomous driving trial at Kobe Steel’s Kakogawa Works, using a UD Trucks Quon equipped with L4 autonomous driving technology. The initiative is being driven in part to alleviate a chronic shortage of drivers at the steel works site and to promote digital transformation at manufacturing and logistics sites.
Addressing Japan’s driver shortage
UD Trucks will provide a Quon heavy-duty truck that is specially equipped with L4 autonomous driving technology for the trial. The truck will run on a test route within the confines of the Kakogawa Works. The trial is expected to take place during the second half of 2022.
Japan is experiencing labor shortages in the face of a declining birthrate and rapidly aging population. Numerous studies show that if current trends continue, the working-age population is predicted to drop from roughly 74 million in 2021, to 68 million in 2030 and 44 million in 2060.
The labor shortage is affecting wide sectors of the economy, including logistics and manufacturing industries, putting intense pressure on companies to maintain current levels of output and customer service. In the case of steel production, blast furnaces are designed to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. However, driver shortages can slow the movement of materials within the premises, impacting manufacturing operations as a whole.
Leveraging a proven technology
In 2018, UD Trucks announced its innovation roadmap "Fujin & Raijin. Vision 2030” that aims to deliver a variety of solutions for Smart Logistics, including fully-electric and autonomous trucks by 2030.
In 2019, UD Trucks, Logistics firm Nippon Express and Hokkaido agriculture cooperative Hokuren demonstrated the use of L4 autonomous driving technology in the handling of farm produce at one of Hokkaido’s leading agriculture processing facilities. Part of the route also took place on a public road, a first for a heavy-duty truck in Japan. The autonomous driving systems have been put to the test under conditions that replicate actual operating environments and thereby show the feasibility for real-world autonomous driving technology applications.
In May 2021, Kobe Steel formulated the KOBELCO Group Medium-Term Management Plan (FY2021-2023). Supporting this plan is a DX (digital transformation) strategy which aims to strengthen and accelerate technology development and business applications in the fields of ICT and AI. Digital technology will be central to transforming the company’s value chain to provide solutions for customers and society.
UD Trucks and Kobe Steel are now embarking on the next step in putting autonomous technology to the test, in an effort to maximize efficiency and address driver shortages. Through this collaboration, both companies will lay the groundwork for positive change in making logistics smarter, better for people and better for the bottom line.
*NOTE 1: The image above is a depiction of L4 autonomous driving in a closed-off area, not representative of the actual trial.
*NOTE 2: Level 4 vehicles can operate in self-driving mode under pre-defined conditions and will not operate unless all required conditions are met. To ensure safety, the route will be off limits to people and a safety driver will be present behind the wheel, able to intervene in the event of any unforeseen situation or emergency.
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