Magna International recently caused a stir by showcasing the highly anticipated Fisker Ocean SUV electric vehicle (EV) and pizza delivery robot driver at trade shows.
But you won’t see the company’s branding anywhere on any vehicle. The Aurora, Ontario and Troy, Michigan-based company, founded 60 years ago as an auto supplier for the Big 3 in Detroit, does it all for car dealerships on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.
The cutting-edge automotive multinational – which describes itself as a mobility technology company – got its humble beginnings making brackets for the sun visors of GM vehicles. Today, Magna employs 170,000 people and generates nearly $37 billion a year by providing contract assembly services and manufacturing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), automated seats, bogs and chassis, powertrain systems, plus a host of mechatronics, radar and digital imaging sensors, exterior bodywork, and yes, advanced lighting and mirrors too.
Magna, for example, has built 3.7 million vehicles for OEMs, including the ePace for Jaguar, and is putting the finishing touches on the Fisker Ocean SUV EV, based on a modified version of the EV platform developed by Magna. which powers Fisker’s FM29 platform for famed automotive designer Henrik Fisker.
But one thing is clear: Magna has no intention of entering the automotive industry. Custom assembly is simply part of its DNA. “In automotive terms, sometimes it’s easier to describe what we don’t do than what we do,” quips Boris Shulkin, senior vice president and chief digital and information officer at Magna, who has held various positions in the company during its 20 years. -year tenure, including Executive Vice President of Technology and Investments, Senior Vice President of Technology and Development, and Vice President of R&D.
“What makes us unique is that we are able to design and manufacture vehicles for our customers, but that’s not all we do,” he says.
Here, information technology plays a key role. The company’s ongoing digital journey, in close partnership with OEMs and multiple cloud providers, has extended and transformed all aspects of Magna’s business and manufacturing processes for many years.
Accelerate innovation in the cloud
“Today, we are truly cloud-native across the enterprise,” says Shulkin, pointing out that data collection and analysis are critical business processes for complex system development, prototyping and manufacturing lines. of the company.
Magna launched its migration to a hybrid, multicloud infrastructure about six years ago based on partnerships with AWS, Microsoft, and Google.
“We manage this part of the cloud infrastructure with our vendors and partners in a very hybrid approach,” says Shulkin, noting that some data is stored in private clouds and some in the public cloud.
Whether developing its advanced driver assistance systems, powertrain or chassis systems, energy storage systems or LIDAR sensors and radars, a massive amount of data, testing and Validation is required for millions of kilometers driven by prototypes and production vehicles in all weather conditions. conditions and terrain.
There’s so much data that it’s usually in petabytes – and that means an old-school approach to data transfer.
“While we collect the data, we ship the data [to our cloud providers] by FedEx,” said Shulkin, who oversees Magna’s global IT team of 500 employees and 1,400 technology contractors across six business units around the world. “For the amount of data we collect daily, believe it or not, it’s easier and faster to ship a hard drive from a data location to the private cloud than to ship it through the dedicated connection to the cloud. The speed of the most efficient modern networks is not high enough.
Magna has developed its data pipeline and toolchains internally and in collaboration with its cloud partners. “It’s digital plumbing,” he says. “It’s a catalyst for operational efficiency.”
Using design and data analysis platforms, Magna engineers build prototype subsystems, parts and vehicles electronically rather than physically. “It’s about creating digital twins,” says Shulkin. “The ability to use data proactively rather than reactively. This is where the business value comes from.
Much like Magna, the cloud has been a key enabler of innovation for a wide range of businesses, says Gartner analyst Mike Ramsey.
“The cloud helps companies use huge volumes of data and perform advanced analytics and engineering techniques by leveraging massive data centers rather than overloaded on-premises computers,” he said. “It also helps them collaborate globally, accelerating innovation and enabling 24/7 development. Collaboration and the ability to scale quickly for huge compute needs is immense value for the cloud. »
The data lake as fuel for innovation
Magna is building what it calls its enterprise digital platform – a data lake to solve its big data problem. Working with its cloud partners, the company will use commercial products and tools such as Snowflake to establish a massive, universal data pool that can be leveraged by all company employees.
But most important, according to Shulkin, is creating and managing standardized interfaces that allow all business units around the world to use the data they need.
“What we’re doing is creating standard interfaces between all of this to allow people to have seamless access to it,” he says. “Creating the interfaces allows many employees to create the digital twin without changing 50 ERP systems overnight.”
Data governance is another important aspect of Magna’s enterprise digital platform, which is used globally and subject to various rules and regulations by vendors and officials in each country. The rationalization that is essential to efficiency.
“If I had to sum up the enterprise digital platform, it’s about enabling operational efficiency, improving the bottom line, and putting trusted data at the fingertips of decision makers as soon as possible so they can make proactive decisions,” Shulkin said.
Magna enjoys the fruits of its technical mastery in myriad ways, from production efficiency to its No. 1 selling status in North America and an excellent reputation that led Henrik Fisker to select the company to produce his Ocean SUV, which is expected to debut within months.
The company is reluctant to detail this future contract assembly pact with Fisker. But Shulkin is eager to discuss the extensive data management, digital tools and digital processes that Magna uses to create digital twins and prototypes of next-generation electric vehicles and mobile systems.
“Because we’re dealing with the size of the clouds where it starts in petabytes, and some of them in private clouds and some of them in public clouds, Magna is the one managing it both through development, testing and validation,” he said, adding that enterprise CIOs facing similar big data challenges need to take the wheel to ensure that all technical and governance requirements related to their complex hybrid and multicloud are properly managed.