A cold December morning at the Audi plant in Neckarsulm. Four employees from operational logistics are inspecting containers in which they collect components for the assembly of the Audi A8. Especially when a new model is launched, not all containers are optimally loaded with parts. Employees therefore have to compare data from various programs manually to optimize the utilization of the containers. In concrete terms, this means replacing incorrectly set container types and additionally repackaging components. Then they had an idea: Why not combine all the necessary data and automate packaging optimization?”
The intelligent logistics app from the TechHub
In times of Smart-Factory and Industry 4.0, data experts are more in demand than ever. At the TechHub Heilbronn, eleven Audi employees work on intelligent solutions for data-driven production. Blog author Lisa Niermann saw how an app was created there.
It wasn’t long before Verena Lechner and her colleagues approached the TechHub in Heilbronn with this idea. Since June 2017, Audi employees at Neckarsulm and Ingolstadt have been working on various projects using agile methods – similar to those at the Audi Denkwerkstatt. The TechHub focuses on Data Driven Production, i.e. production decisions based on the systematic analysis of large data amounts. And so, the Neckarsulm logistics company’s future project “packaging optimization” begins.
The TechHub – an office for data experts
Oliver Jetter, Kerstin Klotzbücher and Dirk Höfle from the TechHub approached the topic: Together with the four colleagues from logistics, they have developed a project plan. Teamwork is the TechHub’s first credo: “With our know-how and methods, we are creating something big together with the ideas of the specialist departments. We can only develop good solutions with the people who work with them,” says Jetter. As a data expert for production topics, he supervises the idea from logistics together with Kerstin Klotzbücher, IT project manager, and Dirk Höfle, expert for databases.
In a project house without zip code, the eleven Audi employees support projects relating to Big Data and Smart Factory – from the creation of the data to their analysis and concrete solutions in production. This might be, for instance, new software that evaluates data from different areas or an app that optimizes packaging – as in the case of Lechner and her team.
The tech hub doesn’t know departmental boundaries: Production, quality assurance and IT staff work together on projects. Oliver Jetter’s team quickly realized something: “The largest data treasures are usually not located in one department, but where data from several departments are brought together. In essence, the eleven data experts always work where the largest data treasure can be raised. And everyone – no matter from which Audi location – can contribute their ideas. A real win-win situation: The departments benefit from the expertise of the TechHub – and at the same time the TechHub benefits from the experience of the department. For Lechner’s logistics team, this meant: Creative brainstorming, developing solutions together, creating prototypes and testing. To achieve this, they worked with agile methods such as design-thinking, in which an idea is developed further in several phases.
An app for logistics
Flat hierarchies, agile working methods, IT-based project management – in the TechHub you work like a start-up and bring new working methods to the company. Just like the pilot project of the intelligent logistics app.
Jetter and his four colleagues from logistics worked on the app for six weeks, now they can test their program in practice. In the middle of the A8 assembly, Verena Lechner picks up the tablet and heads to a shelf with several containers. Components such as covers, metal clips and speakers are just waiting to be installed in the new A8. The early shift has just begun and there is a lot of activity around the band section, but Lechner and her colleagues are absorbed by the app.
Lechner scans a container’s barcode, a few clicks later the app shows her how the container can be optimized on the basis of the location.
The screen displays all the data calculated by the system: Part and container number, quantity, place of installation of the component – and above all, the optimization potential. Lechner and her colleagues use this information to see whether larger containers with covers and smaller containers with loudspeakers should be placed on this section of the belt. However, vehicle planning is also included in the optimization proposal: If many vehicles will be produced for the Chinese market in the coming weeks, the quantity of components required will change.
Therefore, the packaging should be optimized in on time. The necessary data, which used to run on different systems, is now merged by the app. Lechner and her colleagues agree: “The new app shows us how we can optimally plan the quantities of the corresponding containers on the conveyor belt at a glance.”
On a sunny February day, the whole project team meets again in the TechHub in Heilbronn. This is where the idea that was born in the production halls of the Audi plant in Neckarsulm, was put into concrete terms and developed further. Verena Lechner is particularly pleased that her app is now being tested in production as a pilot project and is being further developed to production readiness: “It was only possible for us to put the idea into practice so quickly, because we pulled together.”
And then, off we go to the to the TechHub foosball – you never know which creative idea may come next.
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