Studies cite big networking deficits in car plants (Photo: Tesla)

Digital technologies need to be fully embedded in the automotive manufacturing process if automakers are to succeed with efforts to modernize car production. That is one of the key messages of nextLAP, a startup that has developed an Internet of Things (IoT) platform for automotive manufacturing. nextLAP believes the industry needs to adopt a holistic concept that embraces digitization as an integral part of the production process.

Until now, production systems have generally been built on four pillars: cycle rates, pull, flow and perfection. The approach has been inspired by the Toyota production system, which embodies both the lean and kaizen philosophies. Core characteristics are smoothed and leveled-out operations, the systematic elimination of any waste, standardization, and a well organized work force.

nextLAP believes networking should also be a central characteristic of the manufacturing process, as digitization is a big enabler of faster efficiency improvements. “It is only with the anchoring of digitization in the production system that it will become a core component of optimized production operations,” said Andre Ziemke, CEO and co-founder of nextLAP. “Digitization is the key element of process integration.”

Automakers are listening, but so far, many Industry 4.0 projects remain in the testing phase and money isn't being spent on an overall strategy, Ziemke said. He believes the time has come for the next step: deploying the new technologies. “No one has yet answered the question of how to bring the findings into the production process,” he said.

Networking everything

In the digitized production system envisioned by nextLAP, a cloud platform is used to network everything, including racks, cordless screwdrivers, RFID readers, and even trucks that deliver materials.

Employees are given a platform interface tailored to a specific target group. That’s important, Ziemke said, to reduce complexity and get the manufacturing teams on board. “The approach must be anchored in the rules of the production process so it can become a matter of course for employees as well,” he said.

When production employees add elements of digitization to the existing manufacturing system, they achieve a common understanding of Industry 4.0 as the vision, Ziemke said. The set of rules expanded in this way becomes the basis of a digitization strategy for manufacturing.

As part of the new paradigm, machine learning, the use of data to control production, 100 percent digitization based on the Internet of Things, and the right network infrastructure also need to become central pillars of Industry 4.0 manufacturing.

Kearney study

nextlap-300x225 nextLAP sees a major efficiency boost coming from increased manufacturing digitization (Photo: nextLAP)

A study by consultants AT Kearney has found that around 60 percent of processes and systems in production and logistics are not sufficiently networked. This leads to duplicate work as well as reduced utilization and efficiency.

Experts see the rejection of traditional department subdivisions as the minimal requirement for accomplishing anything. “A silo mentality is one of the biggest problems of larger companies in particular,” said Michael Roemer, a partner and digital transformation specialist at AT Kearney. “It develops over the course of years. For the most part, existing capacity was expanded to handle growth, instead of increasing the potential for greater efficiency through horizontal networking,” he added.

That meant that more often than not, companies would rather put up another warehouse than optimize the flow between production and logistics. In the process, they would pass up an opportunity to save 30 to 40 pc storage space through the use of better networking, Roemer said. And they would forego the chance to use assets more efficiently and cut disposition times for containers.

By Daniela Hoffmann