Industry 4.0 train keeps rolling in Germany

Better get on board, the Industry 4.0 locomotive has left the station.

0 December 7, 2015

That’s the takeaway from the 14th International Press Conference held in December 2015.“Don’t stand in front of the Industry 4.0 train,” Dr. Eberhard Veit, Festo Chairman of the Board told the multinational group of editors.

“We are talking here about the transformation of industrial manufacture into a fully networked, flexible production system.“

The Festo Scharnhausen Technology Plant is an example of how an automation company has invested 70 million euros in both the future of its customers and its own production philosophy, from education to supply chain management. The plant is so large and complex – 66,000 square metres and employs 1,200 people – that tours during the conference were scheduled over two days.
The factory, where the automation company manufactures valves, valve terminals and electronics, is characterized by lean and energy-efficient processes, top-quality products and a pronounced customer focus, as well as sustainable and green production.

The overall concept was characterized by this manufacturing location’s high degree of adaptability by and the establishment of an efficient value chain and value stream. These are decisive factors for Festo’s global competitiveness and for its high level of customer benefit.

“With the Technology Plant, we are also well prepared to meet future requirements: we have created the space necessary for cooperative technology and product developments there, and also considerably improved the time to market through optimized procedures and realigned core processes,” said plant manager Stefan Schwerdtle.

A key attribute of the factory is its holistic value stream management, the company says. All value streams from development, logistics and production at the Technology Plant are will be constantly kept in an optimal state of flux.

“We are concentrating on identifying bottlenecks in the value stream and aligning the processes accordingly in the best possible way – by this means, we can avoid delays and ensure a smooth sequence of operations,” said Stefan Labonde, head of Material Management at the Technology Plant.

The optimization measures for the value streams have already proved impressive.

“In the production of the DGSL pneumatic mini slide, for instance, the overall transport distance has now been reduced from 32 km to only 240 m, and the throughput times have thus also been cut by 66% because we can now carry out all processing stages at the one location,” said Labonde.

When it came to planning the new plant, experts from purchasing, development, IT, logistics, production and human resources immediately got together and worked in an interdepartmental manner. In this way, it was possible to come up with an intricate plant architecture and turn this into a reality in three years.

According to Schwerdtle, a dynamic adaptation in line with future requirements is one part of the concept. “The development process is by no means complete when the plant opens.
“We are faced with new challenges in the global competitive arena that is the automation sector with employees who are ready to learn and are open to the changes in the area of production. “

Staff training in automated “learning factories” increasingly requires a highly-flexible, work-integrated approach that relates to production needs and can be easily adapted to changing conditions, the company says. (Festo Didactic is the company’s dedicated training division that assists external customers.) The subjects and skills taught need to be intuitive to learn and easy to share to facilitate networked learning.

A Cyber-Physical Factory – practical training in the use of new technologies is conducted using the cyber-physical research and learning platform – is part of a so-called learning factory. This modular learning environment can be used to qualify personnel in the operation of a particular production process or in a particular field of work, such as production technology.

At the Scharnhausen facility, editors were shown how different qualification modules can be added to the CP Factory: process-oriented training in the fields of mechatronics, logistics and process optimization as well as organizational and skills training in aspects such as interdisciplinary collaboration, learning capacity and adaptability.

In so-called “One-Point Lessons” ranging from 20 to 90 minutes, skilled workers and management staff are trained at frequent intervals by internal or external experts in practical aspects of current requirements – for example in the fields of energy management, process optimization, IT management or in the training of skilled staff themselves.

Another innovation in Scharnhausen is the implementation of the Ideen Schmiede concept (“Idea Smithy”), four dedicated rooms where engineers, managers and assembly staff can congregate. These employees are encouraged to brainstorm about potential product and production improvements in a casual lounge environment with kitchen facilities and giant, writable interactive screens.

“Also the knowledge gained from our research into Industry 4.0 is channelled into the further development of the plant. This is how we are able to implement even complex changes in a sustainable manner,” said Schwerdtle.

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