Screen-Shot-2017-01-21-at-1.33.26-PM-300x227.

Andre Ziemke: "The potential of digitization in manufacturing is gigantic" (Photo: Claus Dick)

Andre Ziemke is one of the co-founders of nextLAP, which has built a software platform designed to boost efficiency in car manufacturing. Ziemke spoke by phone recently to automotiveIT.

Why did you start nextLAP?nextLAP co-founder Thomas (Stoeckel) and I were responsible for production and logistics systems in the Audi Group. We started a digitization process there in 2009, but we realized that the IT landscape in the auto industry is barely suitable for digitization. After having introduced some elements of digitization, we decided to leave the company and develop an integrated software solution comprising of engineering, production and logistics and using Internet-of-Things technology.

What’s so bad about the manufacturing systems used today around the world?Today you need dozens of different IT systems to accurately capture, plan and execute logistics, manufacturing and assembly. And these systems are not really integrated. Implementing Internet-of-Things technologies on top of this landscape is vir- tually impossible, since the architecture of these systems date back to the 70s, 80s and 90s. We have a clear product strategy for our software to integrate all disciplines on one platform: logistics, manufacturing and even the supplier.

You say the systems are outdated. So should a carmaker just do away with everything and start anew?The answer is probably: yes. But, obviously, no-one will do that. The way forward is to approach it one step at a time. You have to go on a digitization journey. We started with a small step, an interface between manufacturing and logistics: the “SmartRack” as we call it. Then you gradually include scanners and robots. You have to go step-by-step because you’re not working on a greenfield site.

And who are the clients today?We already have BMW in Leipzig and Audi in Ingolstadt as our clients, as well as a maker of electric vehicles in California. We expanded to the US because we see big opportunities with automakers there. We recently rented working space in Silicon Valley and increased our development team there.

So you are going global? What about the Japanese manufacturers?Yes, but mainly in the US. We’re talking with General Motors, Ford Motor and FiatChrysler. These car companies are very open-minded towards innovations in production. Japanese manufacturers follow a different philosophy, their focus is mainly on paper-based processes.

Who is your first point of contact at a car manufacturer?We’re talking directly to the production heads at the car companies. Because they have the need to optimize quality, production figures and costs. Today, every young production engineer is familiar with IT. They have grown up with IT and they are aware that cars are not built without. The IT department plays an important role as well when it comes to roll-out and the need to scale up.

Do you have to discuss your proposals with every individual car plant?Today, the different plants can decide on local solutions to some extent. There is an overall strategy but, as a plant manager is accountable for production figures, he has to quickly decide on innovations that help him fulfil his objectives.

Please describe the state of digitization in car manufacturing from your point of viewThe potential of digitization in manufacturing is gigantic and IoT is coming with big steps. But the different company divisions, including production and logistics, do not yet know what to do with an IoT platform. That’s also why IT departments cannot yet provide process solutions. nextLAP has a process solution and can explain what the advantages are.

And you work in internet time?Preparation takes a week and implementation takes another week, so in two weeks you have a system up and running for you to gather information and discuss. We also offer simplicity and cost transparency. The automaker rents our software. Transforming existing racks into “smart racks” can be easily done in a couple minutes. Switching them on takes a minute. We charge a monthly fee depending on the number of racks and installed devices.

What business advantage does a carmaker get by using nextLAP’s technology?Peter Hochholdinger, former senior production director at Audi and now vice president production at Tesla, said our solution increases flexibility and reduces costs by a factor 10 and speeds up processes by a factor 100. In the future, the key to building cars will lie in smartly integrating the logistics processes with manufacturing and engineering. With our holistic approach at nextLAP, we can provide a solution.

Interview by Arjen Bongard

This interview was first published in the December 2016 issue of automotiveIT International magazine. For a complimentary subscription, please go to: www.automotiveIT.com/subscribe.