New I4.0 Technologies Must Be Adaptable into the Industrial Environment
- Digital Factory
The WITTE Automotive company ranks among global technological leaders. The production plant in Nejdek is the largest within the group. It also includes development, implementing successful projects deployed in other plants of the group. Currently, they plan for implementing new technologies corresponding to the ideas of I4.0. I was talking with excited innovators, Aleš Blažek (IT), an IT team manager, and Tomáš Renner (LOG), a logistics department manager, about augmented reality, automated milk-run, or smartwatch technologies.
Can you depict the WITTE Automotive Nejdek company? What is major production portfolio of the company?
LOG: The company’s motto is “Key Concepts for the Automotive World”. It means we deliver products associated with locking personal vehicles. The WITTE Nejdek company belongs to the WITTE Automotive group, based in Velbert, Germany, having plants in Germany, Bulgaria, and the Czech Republic, and having dealerships even in five European countries. In addition to Nejdek, there is another plant in Ostrov, too. Our customers are car manufacturers throughout the world. We are a Tier 1 and Tier 2 supplier. As for the standards we follow within the main internal strategy in the WITTE Production System, it is more demanding, since the target groups have different requirements, and we strive to meet them. The WITTE Automotive company is in the VAST alliance, which allows for global operation.
What is the production organization, and the cooperation with other departments of the company?
LOG: The production organization in WITTE is built on business teams. Each team is focused on a specific top customer, or serves another one in compliance with the production portfolio. The teams are separate units, supported by other departments, such as IT and logistics. In some cases, e.g. determination of standards, globalization from the perspective of the production planning, or fulfilment of customer requirements, the roles are not uniquely given. We try not doing the same thing multiple times, and sharing know-how among teams. Logistics takes care of material flow, storage, and other processes. Very close cooperation with the IT department is important. Request from the customer is accepted using the EDI communication. We use a customized SAP, provided by the central.
What are the main reasons leading you to apply the Industry 4.0 ideas in practise?
IT: It is known generally, that Germany, specifically the German government is a leader in this area. In the plant of Nejdek, we started thinking about the concepts leading to the I4.0 due to the lack of human resources. We employ two thousand people. In Ostrov, we have almost seven hundred employees. It is a large volume for Nejdek, Ostrov, and the whole region of Karlovy Vary. We care for the costs of automation and digitization in the second line only.
LOG: We do not mean to replace people with new technologies, we are really missing required human resources. One of our goals is the automation of unvalued processes. Nejdek is located close to the border with Germany. It used to happen, that after we provided inductive training to workers, they left us for Germany, equipped with better know-how. Generation ageing is a social trend, the new generation wants to travel and get to know the world, and we need to keep and further develop the existing business. Therefore, we consider the I4.0 as a way out.
How do you achieve these specific goals? Have you a dedicated team of people dealing with these projects?
LOG: We have various projects. We are very innovative and progressive. We use our own resources and know-how. The key for us is the potential of people, who want to tackle it, even if it is an unknown area. We do not just wait until addressed by the market. From my point of view, some companies resolve things more externally, as they are missing their own know-how. Within WITTE, we are capable of extending the projects to the whole group.
IT: Together with the central, we have prepared an IT strategy for this topic. We defined the way we wanted to develop and move further, and set a budget. We know we want to make the I4.0. The central gives us space for the implementation of projects, even if they know, there is a lot of operative work to do. They think ahead and listen. They want to utilize experience of our people. Where we cannot develop a solution ourselves, we use products and services by third parties.
Can you specify projects in the area of logistics and IT, you are currently dealing with?
IT: The first one is the augmented reality (AR) for maintenance. Two versions come into consideration – using glasses, or tablet. The whole process looks like this. The maintenance operator has glasses put on, telling him/her to go, for example, to Audi A1 line, and replace a relay at the end of its lifetime. Using AR, the operator can see which relay is involved, being in service for 500 thousand cycles now. If not replaced, it will fail after 1 million cycles and compromise the production. We want to use the glasses not only for predictive, but for operative maintenance, too. Another project we are considering is the automatic milk-run. A robot comes to the central warehouse, takes goods, transports it to the production line, and unloads it there. A question remains, whether the today’s world is ready for this reality. For example, security aspects play their roles. If the robot takes a container, and the container drops down to someone’s foot, who takes the responsibility? Robot or person randomly passing by? From the robotization point of view, we also consider cooperative robots. We want to achieve the cooperation between a robot and human operator in the production. The issue is, robot manufacturers demonstrate something on the laboratory level, but the reality in the industrial practise is slightly different. The speed of a robot is very low, and one of the reasons is, the robot should not endanger a man. For the case of plastics injection shop, where we manufacture plastic components, we also monitor the development in the area of 3D printing. In the future, we would like be using 3D printers for the production of plastic products instead of expensive and heavy forms. However, the cycle speed is not comparable to classical injection presses yet.
Have you any other interesting project in the sights?
IT: In order to provide sequence to the paint shop in the plant of Ostrov, we want to use the Smartwatch technology. The paint shop must not stop, or run idly, as it costs large financial means. At present, we cover this issue by a person walking and looking to a piece of paper, whether and in what sequence the material flows to the paint shop. We hope the operating personnel does not overlook anything and make a mistake. For this operation, we would like the operating personnel to be provided with a watch, indicating the material, which should go to the paint shop, and where the material is currently located. We can use on-line scanners, but they do not give free hands to the operator. In order to be able to implement the above said projects, we need data. Therefore, we introduce digitization elements, such as on-line booking. The second phase is the collection of data from lines. We have two hundred IoT devices, integrated to production lines.
Do you plan for addressing suppliers, who would cooperate with you within the mentioned projects? What should they be prepared for?
IT: We would rather appreciate a development partner, who would cooperate with us to reach the solution, not just a supplier. We will define the project together, including goals, we will co-finance it, and develop SW and HW. We are not against sales either, though, it is not our primary goal.
LOG: The key is the solution adaptation to industrial environment. Where there is no demand, the offer is useless. If not able to deploy technologies to plants, like in Nejdek, it only remains a mere theory.