The Dynamic Factory of the Future

Photos: © TU Graz / FSI

Quick reactions to market fluctuations – agile manufacturing – is essential in Industry 4.0. However, there has been little research about how it can be implemented. Now there is a large-scale research project dedicated to it. The crises of the last few years have shown something in a very drastic way: companies have to be able to react to extreme market fluctuations at short notice and adapt their production accordingly. The modern term for this is “agile manufacturing“ – a field in which there is still a shortage of research results with concrete practical recommendations for industry. And for precisely this reason, Magna commissioned a three-year research project in April 2014 from the Institute of Production Science and Management at the FSI. Karl Friedrich Stracke, president of Magna Steyr Fahrzeugtechnik & Engineering: “Our expectations of this project include recommendations for action and trends, such as how  the factory of the future deals with flexibilisation, automation, novel logistics and material-flow concepts, co-operation between man and machine as well as working time models.” The aim is to create an infrastructure and a mindset among the employees so that they are able to cope with constantly changing conditions and when necessary, react in the right way. It’s important for agile manufacturing that all the departments of the company are involved. “The support and acceptance of the employees is of considerable importance to successfully master the future,” emphasises Stracke.  

Intelligent Production

Agile manufacturing is an essential feature of Industry 4.0 – the fourth development after the first industrial revolution based on the steam engine, the second with electrical energy, and the third with automation of production. “What is meant by Industry 4.0 is intelligent manufacturing. It’s about integrating information and communication technology into manufacturing,” explains Christian Ramsauer, head of the Institute of Production Science and Management at Graz University of Technology, where the research project on agile manufacturing is being carried out. It is planned to involve about ten diploma or doctoral students in the project. “We see Industry 4.0 as a central focus of our institute,” adds the FSI expert.

“It's a matter of establishing a completely new way of thinking.” - Christian Rabitsch, project head 

Establishing a New Way of Thinking

The first step for the project team is to define agile manufacturing. What exactly does agile mean? Where is the border with flexibility or changeability? And where exactly is there a need for concrete research? What is indispensable is to see agility as a strategic approach and to “place it right at the top of the management level,” as project head Christian Rabitsch puts it. “In any case, its not just about improving processes, but establishing a completely new way of thinking.” The direct contacts with the Magna management and the whole corporate network are definitely the right path.  

What is Agile Manufacturing? 

Agility is a strategic quality of enterprises to adapt proactively to external and internal changes. Agile manufacturing is an essential characteristic of Industry 4.0 and of intelligent manufacturing.

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