The factory of the future must make efficient use of resources. Which factors influence this? What role should logistics play when it comes to planning factories to use resources efficiently? A look at these questions and many others in an interview with Dietmar Ausländer.
Mr. Ausländer, the factory of the future will have to be adaptable to change and quick to react. In addition, the increasing scarcity and rising costs of resources will also influence factory planning: resource efficiency will be key, but which factors will be the most decisive in this respect?
Companies are now subject to continual change due to increasing globalization in the economy, calls for more and more customized products, and rising customer demands for better availability (e.g., 24-hour deliveries). Also, growing environmental awareness, stricter legislation such as the German energy saving regulations ENEV, and the continuing expansion of mobile communications play an important role, just as much as shorter innovation and product life cycles, plus the increasing willingness to collaborate along the entire supply chain.
On one hand, these megatrends are resulting in new ways of looking at the value chain within companies; on the other, they’re having a significant impact on the design of future factories. The approach we take to future factories at our Steinbeis Enterprise is therefore called “smart factory.” This is essentially based on the following:
Taking these different factors into account results in significantly more complexity in the factory planning process. For us as planners, this means the planning process has to be made more efficient to be able to react to changing conditions. Also, the planning process has to be more adaptable to gear itself to changing situations or the different business environment. Manufacturing facilities also have to be designed to make them more adaptable to changing requirements. So overall, there are a whole variety of major demands placed on the factory of the future and these go far beyond technology or commercial aspects.
Your Steinbeis Transfer Center offers its clients factory planning services and location consulting and you place a great deal of emphasis on holistic consulting. How does this benefit your customers?
We offer an end-to-end portfolio of services to help clients plan entire logistics systems and manufacturing facilities. Customers can count on our collaboration model at all stages of project planning and implementation, picking out the service modules they require. This allows us to offer all planning services under one roof. To deliver these services, we have to integrate specialized knowledge, drawing on a variety of specialist disciplines. To do this justice, we place a great deal of emphasis on the people working in the project team. It’s important that the people in the team offer the right degree of professionalism, interdisciplinary knowledge, and international experience. It’s here that we notice the major benefits offered by our Steinbeis Network and we actually recruit a significant portion of our project teams from this network.
More and more planning tasks now run in parallel to address the need for short planning cycles. We’ve also developed a planning method that involves clients at all stages. This merges the detailed process knowledge of the client with the planning know-how of my Steinbeis Enterprise. The decisive added value offered by this method lies in the quality of outcomes and our adherence to budgets and schedules.
To avoid poor investments, the feasibility and economic viability of the overall undertaking are checked right at the beginning of the project. This integrative and interdisciplinary approach benefits customers because they’re given a made-to-measure concept that’s future-proof and is a good match with their expectations.
What role do logistics play in resource-efficient factory planning?
The role of logistics in the factory planning process has changed fundamentally over the past 20 years. Factories and sites are now planned according to logistical criteria. The approach has changed too. First the process is planned, then comes the framework.
Logistics play a leading role in the digitalization of the value chain. Networking smart production and smart logistics will pave the way for new business models and business processes. For example, it will be possible to make completely different products on the same production line. Or it will be possible to customize a variety of products and still produce them economically in batch sizes of a single unit. In many areas, logistics will be able to run autonomously, guided by intelligent algorithms, based on up-to-date machine data. Only recently, we planned a logistics center that moves around products largely automatically, right to the trucks waiting in the loading docks. Production facilities can automatically send their requirements to automated warehouses without human involvement and a transport robot brings the products autonomously. Automated control loops were mocked for a long time. Now they’re undergoing a renaissance. Smart logistics are unthinkable without IT. These are areas of action that will decide the competitiveness of production and commerce, here and now. Because of all these factors, combined with IT and process management, logistics play a central role in resource-efficient factory planning.
The challenges posed by scarce resources will become more and more important in the future. In what ways do you believe this will affect factory planning and what demands will this place on the work carried out by your Steinbeis Enterprise?
Our clients’ most important goal is to prevent any kind of resource wastage by optimizing existing production facilities or building new ones. The shortage of resources in terms of qualified personnel, energy, raw materials, and land has resulted in planning using all available technologies as intelligently as possible.
The interdependencies between building architecture, technical infrastructures, and logistics are significant. Planners therefore have to talk closely with other people very early in the planning stages to determine uniform processes and thus fulfill the prerequisites for efficient factory operations. The sequencing and positioning of individual functions within the business are no longer based solely on material flows; they increasingly take energy factors into account. To do this in practice, we use special checklists and software packages. These ensure that factory planning works in harmony not just with energy efficiency but also efficient material use.
Dietmar Auslander is director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Logistics and Factory Planning, where projects revolve around the fields of logistics consulting, process optimization, factory planning, business location consulting, and production planning.