“If a process is chaotic to start with, it will remain chaotic after it has been digitalized.”
by Dagmar Dieterle
In sheet metal production, much of the time is taken up by processes upstream or downstream of the actual fabrication stage. There’s plenty of potential for optimization in this 80 percent. This is what TRUMPF sets out to do for its customers through its factory design service. The team analyzes the entire process chain. In this respect, the high-tech company is something of a pioneer in the sheet metal industry with its factory design and consulting services. Florian Langer, head of factory design at TRUMPF, spoke with us about collaboration with customers, flexible manufacturing, and why digitization is not always the immediate solution.
marketSTEEL: Mr. Langer, you helped develop TRUMPF’s factory design program. What’s the story behind that?
We evaluate the customer’s existing production setup to determine how efficient it is in terms of costs, time and quality. We do this by analyzing the entire process chain and suggesting improvements that could be made. We look at every stage of the sheet metal production process, not just individual machines.
marketSTEEL: What does a typical factory design project involve?
Working hand in hand with the customer, we work out the best possible solution to their production needs. What these needs are depends on the client company’s own goals. It is planning to grow? Or does it simply want to improve production efficiency? Then we develop a step-by-step plan for achieving the ideal plant configuration.
marketSTEEL: In other words, factory design is a two-way collaboration?
Absolutely. The client company knows its processes better than anyone else, and we contribute our extensive metalworking and process knowhow. So the idea is to bring together an outsider’s objective view with the customer’s subjective, internal view.
marketSTEEL: No doubt, that sometimes leads to surprises…
Many people automatically associate optimization with digitalization. But that’s only half the answer. A process that’s causing problems can’t be improved through digitalization alone. That’s why we always start with a site visit to find out whether the customer’s existing facility is based on clearly defined processes. If a process is chaotic to start with, it will remain chaotic after it has been digitalized. It can be an eye-opening moment for customers when we tell them what they need is a new process, not new machines.
marketSTEEL: Why is it so important to take a holistic view of factory design?
The interplay between different factors in the sheet metal trade has grown more intricate. Even the slightest change can lead to production bottlenecks: new customers, orders for new products, fluctuating demand. Our customers operate in a highly competitive market. A factory design project can help them to modernize their production and improve their ability to cope with the competitive situation, regardless of whether they are constructing a new plant or updating an existing one.
marketSTEEL: What is different about TRUMPF’s approach to factory design?
We don’t see customers merely as users of TRUMPF machines. Their processes include other steps such as manual welding or applying coatings, for which we can also offer advice based on our comprehensive knowhow. In this way we can ensure that our factory design encompasses the entire process chain.
marketSTEEL: What constitutes a perfect production environment?
The key to an ideal production environment is the coordination of all material and information flows. In other words, finding the best combination of hardware, software and services. The result is a well organized, finely timed production flow that provides room for adjustments and guarantees top quality.
marketSTEEL: Are there any limiting factors that affect factory design?
We are frequently confronted with restrictions regarding the building’s structural features, insufficient floor space, or awkward layouts. But we are engineers, not architects. For us, factory design is not the same thing as planning how the production hall is laid out. Our focus lies on the value creation process, both inside and outside the physical building.
marketSTEEL: A final question: Why do customers come to you for advice?
Probably because they know that a well designed factory will help them to structure their processes with the future in mind and scale up their business. A finely tuned factory design minimizes throughput times and boosts output. Our aim is to contribute to the customer’s success.