Techs of the Future: The Importance of Having a Broad Understanding of Vehicle Technology

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Up until recently, it was common practice for technicians to plug in a dongle to the OBDII---onboard diagnostics---port to diagnose a vehicle.

As modern cars have become increasingly computerized with sophisticated electronics, that is no longer the case, according to Scott McCormick, president of the Connective Vehicle Trade Association (CVTA.)

“Take a Chevy Volt, for example, that can change or update its electronics over time,” said McCormick. “That might sound great if you want to upgrade the electronics in two years, but you have to realize that the car is a system and changing one piece of software in it can create issues.”

If technicians aren’t familiar with the potential problems that could affect the vehicle, McCormick said, they will most likely not be able to repair it properly. As a result, it is becoming essential they have a fundamental and broad understanding of the issues at hand and the necessary skills to address them when a customer comes in experiencing difficulties.

"In the past, technicians, for the most part, had a familiarity with how cars are built,” he said. “That will become increasingly important as more electronics are being added to vehicles.”

Auto manufacturers are producing cars with more than 100 million lines of code. In comparison, McCormick said a Boeing Dreamliner has 4 million lines of code.

“Every level of automation we go up is going to add between one and 200 million lines of code,” he explained. “It’s not like Microsoft Office; it’s not one package.”

Instead, there are disparate packages running simultaneously.

“We’re now dealing with systems that were once standalone objects---a device or computer board---something that went into the car,” said McCormick. “It’s coming to the point where all of these devices are working cooperatively.”

It’s not uncommon to have up to 43 networks in a car. These include high priority systems, such as steering, braking and airbag deployment, as well as lower priority ones such as adjusting the seat and radio control.

“I think we’re seeing an evolution in the relative importance of the technicians who are working on a car that we really haven’t had before,” he said. “They are ones who are the agents of change, the ones who understand what is going on in a vehicle so they can lead their teams.”

McCormick is an accomplished executive in the automotive and aerospace fields, focused in advanced manufacturing, operations, strategy and restructuring. For the past 20 years, he has been a globally recognized expert on vehicle communications.

He has degrees in mathematics, mechanical and aerospace engineering; a master’s degree in business administration; and doctoral research in Artificial Intelligence.

After spending the first 25 years of his career working as a program manager at General Electric, modernizing aircraft and transportation, McCormick was the executive director of the Automotive Multimedia Interface Collaboration, a nonprofit research organization of the world’s largest automakers.

He established the Connected Vehicle Trade Association in 2005. The nonprofit organization facilitates the interaction and advances the interests of the entities involved in the vehicle communication environment. Currently, there are 24 industry segments involved, representing seven countries.

In addition to being named the commissioner for the East Lansing, MI, Transportation Commission, for the last eight years McCormick has been appointed by Congress to advise the Secretary of Transportation on matters relating to the study, development and implementation of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS.)

Throughout his career, McCormick has created a variety of instructional courses that help advance knowledge and understanding in the future of transportation.

In 2015, he was asked to develop a two-hour class for technicians coming out of trade schools and two-year community colleges. The goal was to teach them about the changes taking place in automobiles today.

In his current role as president of CVTA, McCormick launched the Connected Vehicle Professional (CVP) credentialing program, in collaboration with The NEXT Education, in 2015. The comprehensive education and certification curriculum helps professionals build a specific skill set in the ITS community.

The goal is to ensure individuals have the foundational understanding necessary to perform tasks involving connected vehicles and intelligent transportation. This includes in-vehicle safety, infrastructure, communication protocols and security.

A series of three courses---focusing on Vehicle-to-Vehicle, Vehicle-to-Infrastructure and Vehicle-to-X connectivity---were designed for vehicle technicians, insurance professionals and others looking to enhance their knowledge in this growing sector.

The blended learning approach combines online education through the NEXT Education’s platform as well as two half-day instructor-led online classroom sessions. Those who complete courses earn the Connected Vehicle Trade Association Certificate of Competency.

McCormick has also worked closely with Elaina Farnsworth, CEO of The NEXT Education, to create courses for technicians and installers to teach them about the equipment that will be included in the cars of the future. Both McCormick and Farnsworth participated in the recent TU-Automotive Detroit 2020 conference, which focused on future automotive trends, including autonomous vehicles, electrification and digital services.

McCormick said one of the most critical future advancements is related to blockchain.

“Blockchain is basically a mathematical structure for storing data,” explained McCormick. “Everything in blockchain is connected.”

For example, a collision repair shop could log all of the repair work and use blockchain to locate a part for the specific model of vehicle in one place, and the information would be accessible to other segments of the industry.

He used the example of a shop trying to locate a part for a 5-year-old vehicle. Using blockchain, “You could locate that part almost instantaneously,” he explained. “Anytime you can reduce the amount of time you are doing something, you become more efficient and effective; therefore, more profitable.”

Blockchain could also be used to ensure valid parts are being used on a vehicle.

McCormick highly recommends educating technicians on the use of this technology to ensure they are trained properly.

“It’s a tremendously new skillset and people who have this understanding are going to be in the highest demand,” he said.

For more information, email Scott McCormick at 

Stacey Phillips Ronak

Stacey Phillips Ronak is an award-winning writer for the automotive industry and a regular columnist for Autobody News based in Southern California.

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