Smart Factory

Leadec: “When planning a new factory we think two generations ahead”

The factories of the future are superseding traditional manufacturing concepts and hierarchical supply chains. As as service provider, Leadec offers advice on design concepts for smart factories.  

Smart factories are the future, and they will have a more modular structure than factories today.
Smart factories are the future, and they will have a more modular structure than factories today.

Software-controlled, connected production processes, a high degree of automation and close cooperation with sub-suppliers and customers are the features of modern factories that are designed to make them work more efficiently. As a result, the automobile industry is facing new requirements.

Achim Agostini, Head of the Global Automation & Engineering Division at industrial services provider Leadec, envisages two kinds of car factories: “The mass production of identical vehicles, e.g. for fleet operations, will continue on conventional production lines, although there will be more automation, especially in the assembly phase. In factories designed for more individualized production, on the other hand, the cars will be taken to the various production stations by automated guided vehicles (AGV).

There will be many more production steps at one station and the production time spread will be greater. Overall, the equipment for such a factory, and its value creation structure, will change significantly compared with current processes.” Although the technology for it is available, the installed base in the factories is built on traditional concepts.

Money for electric cars rather than factories

Agostini’s view is that the factory of the future will therefore be more modular. Requirements can change rapidly and sub-assemblies will be produced in a decentralized system. More sub-assemblies will come into the factory in larger numbers, and a substantial part of the value creation process will be done outside of the final assembly.

 

When designing a new factory we have to think two generations into the future.

Achim Agostini

“OEMs are putting more of their financial resources into product development for new electric vehicles and investing less in their factories. As capital expenditure in the supply chain shifts, there will be a lot more happening on the part of sub-suppliers,” Agostini explains, adding: “When planning a factory on a greenfield site we need to look ahead to the future by two generations, or about ten years. We need to ask ourselves what the next generation of vehicles is going to look like and what innovations could come onto the market with the successor model. The completely flexible factory concept has not yet been realized on a larger scale, but there are car manufacturers who are currently discussing this.”

 

Achim Agostini heads the Global Automation & Engineering Division at Leadec.
Achim Agostini heads the Global Automation & Engineering Division at Leadec.

Controlling the supply chain

In future, the main task of OEMs will shift from controlling the factory to controlling the supply chain. “We will never be able to produce without malfunctions, but within the various sub-assemblies we can achieve much greater transparency to be able to optimally control the factory. Up to Tier 1 and Tier 2 suppliers, most manufacturers know what goods are available. However, they have to make sure that there is no disruption of delivery,” says Agostini.

That means more interconnection. And this raises the issue of access to and possession of information. “We are moving away from a conventional server infrastructure to cloud-based services. Wherever our cloud services are connected with an OEM system, only certain project staff have access rights. For every project we reach individual arrangements with the customer,” says CEO Markus Glaser-Gallion.

For a flexible factory concept for electric cars, the company uses driverless transport systems, for example, that can ensure the necessary load capacity. Because at present an electric vehicle is often heavier than a car with a combustion engine, the production line sections in some factories are to some extent reaching the limits of their capacity with conventional conveying technology.

Software is the key

Overall, the software used is very important, for example to design and synchronize an entire final assembly plant and provide a three-dimensional simulation of it. Or to map a transparent supply chain. That can be used, for example, to monitor a sub-supplier’s inert gas welding processes on site. The software used for this “is currently being validated by the first OEM.

When the sections and cast parts are welded with one another we can evaluate the weld in the process online and arrange for any necessary reworking,” says Agostini.

To optimize robot cells, Leadec has developed its own software called “robControl”, which can reduce cycle time by up to 15 percent in general. What’s special about the software is that even during the virtual commissioning stage it is able to simulate processes including control, completely map the geometry and therefore determine cycle time and prevent collisions.

Leadec controls and monitors assembly lines worldwide for Thyssen Automotive Systems. “We receive delivery call-offs from the customer’s factory which are resolved as production orders. Using the software, we direct the job orders to the specific production lines, by controlling and monitoring the operating resources individually. In the process, we continuously check the manufacturing progress using “Track&Trace” and initiate the necessary steps in the event of deviations.

Using the software we can handle the software aspects of relocating workstations or incorporating new operating resources in just four hours. Normally that takes several days to weeks,” says Agostini.

 

This article was first puplished on April 1st, 2020 on automobil-industrie.vogel.de.