What will the workshop of the future look like?

In recent years cars have evolved in leaps and bounds. Accordingly, workshops have evolved too. And there’s little sign that the evolution is slowing. 

At the root of much of the progress is the ability to identify car problems. Cars come into workshops when something isn’t working or for preventative maintenance. In order to determine what needs to be fixed, a car has to be assessed so that the problems can be isolated. 

Prior to 1968, mechanics would simply take a car apart and determine what the problem was. In 1968, Volkswagen introduced the first on-board diagnostics (OBD) system. As revolutionary as OBD was, early versions weren’t standardised or particularly helpful as they would simply illuminate a malfunction indicator light or ‘idiot light’ if a problem was detected but provide no further information. 

In 1996, OBD took a major step forward as all cars manufactured and sold in the USA had to be fitted with standardised ‘OBD-II’ systems. This greatly enhanced the diagnostic capabilities of workshops.

Since 1996, OBD systems have evolved at an astonishing pace. Today, advanced telematics is now the norm. Telematics involves monitoring a vehicle by combining a GPS system with on-board diagnostics. Through telematics, it’s possible to map exactly where a car is, how fast it’s travelling and how it’s behaving internally in real time. 

Modern systems typically use a standardised digital communications port to provide real time data in addition to a standardised series of diagnostic trouble codes which enable workshops to rapidly identify and remedy malfunctions. 

As advanced as this method is, the need for even more advanced workshop diagnostic methods has become evident as cars become increasingly complex. Enter Augmented Reality (AR). 

AR refers to a live, direct or indirect view of a physical, real world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory inputs. AR essentially overlays information about the environment and its objects via a digital platform, thereby allowing the user to interact with the environment. 

Volkswagen is already using AR in the form of ‘MARTA’ (Mobile Augmented Reality Technical Assistance) which shows real and virtual components in three dimensional relation to one another in Volkswagen’s XL1. 

When MARTA is called up by a mechanic, the system lists all of the jobs to be performed along with the necessary equipment. The vehicle’s silhouette is shown in the display of a mobile end device (usually a tablet) and it shows the mechanic the orientation to be taken in relation to the vehicle. Once the angle is correct, the relevant components are identified and the work steps are illustrated, thereby allowing the mechanic to work quickly and efficiently. 

BMW is also developing an AR platform which involves the use of special glasses containing small screens which highlight the various car components in bright colours. Computer generated instructions will inform the mechanic what to disassemble and in what order via earbuds attached to the glasses.  

As exciting as these technological advances are, they could also be viewed with a degree of negativity by some in that cars are becoming more ‘problem-free’ which obviously translates into less business for the aftermarket says Linnea Kimber, Castrol Nordics & Baltics B2B Marketing Executive.  

Electric battery-powered cars are a case in point. These cars have fewer moving parts than traditional cars, therefore they require less servicing. The impending advent of smartphone AR apps which will enable car owners to diagnose and perform basic fixes is another aspect which needs to be considered, Kimber says. 

“Far from seeing such innovations as a threat, workshops should embrace the changes. Indeed, it is imperative to do so as technological advances are going to continue and the aftermarket must evolve with them in order to remain relevant.”

Moving with the times
Castrol is also moving with the times explains Kimber: “As part of our professional offer, we provide a web-based service called Castrol Environmental Systems which is designed to assist workshops with their internal procedures. 

“The system can be used by any computer with Internet connectivity and is so user-friendly that it takes just two minutes to understand how it works. I.e. no time-consuming training is needed.”

Kimber explains that the system provides an overview of an organisation and allows users to keep track of all documentation in a convenient and cost-effective fashion. What’s more is that the system links all legislation to the relevant routines and tailors risk analysis and procedures according to business-specific needs.” 

Adds Kimber: “The system enables users to create more environmentally friendly workshops too. In addition to providing information on how to handle chemicals and oils, users can also make sure that all chemical and oil documentation is in order and that workshop routines are being properly followed – all of which is crucial for creating a safe, environmentally friendly workshop.

“In a nutshell, Castrol Environmental Systems allows users to get the right information at the right place, at the right time,” says Kimber. 

Independent workshops which have traditionally been underserved in terms of access to sophisticated garage management systems can now also up their game thanks to Castrol ‘innoVentures’, Castrol’s innovation and investment arm. InnoVentures has invested in CarVue, a cloud-based workshop management system designed specifically for the independent aftermarket. 

CarVue’s service allows independent workshops, garages and mechanics anywhere in the world to sign up and manage all aspects of an automotive workshop business online without the need for expensive servers, software upgrades or training. Workshops that have used CarVue report experiencing improved workshop productivity, better visibility and increased sales, all of which bodes well for the workshops of the future.