At Kendrion we’re continuously investing heavily in Industry 4.0, making our plants smarter with the most up-to-date technologies in automation and digitization. And we’re seeing the benefits - from enhanced manufacturing flexibility, quality and process control, order turnaround, supply chain management, and efficient use of resources.
But we can do more! Using AI, plus a range of “smart” technologies such as AR, VR, AI, digital twin and more to the full, we can further improve our operations, increase customer satisfaction, and drive our growth.
China: spearheading our transformation
Our brand-new state-of-the-art factory in China is a prime example of this transformation. When you walk into the innovative 28,000m2 plant in Suzhou’s industrial park, you come face-to-face with an almost fully automated warehouse, complete with robots, AGVs and automated sorting systems. By automating many processes in the warehouse, our employees can focus their attention and efforts on higher value tasks.
Why China? China is not only a focus market for us; it is also leading the way in the electric vehicle revolution. Since I was last there four years ago, the urban landscape has completely transformed, as electric cars, trucks, and buses have replaced combustion engines everywhere. This creates huge potential for our EV automotive products. But the market is evolving fast and local competition is fierce, with new start-ups and plants popping up all the time.
So, if we want to capture the many opportunities in China, we must smarten up our game - quickly. That’s where intelligent technologies will make a critical difference. We have a very strong market proposition: German-quality engineering backed by understanding of the local market and products customized to local needs. But AI will help us further improve all areas of manufacturing, not only in China, but also across Europe and the US.
We’re on the road to AI!
When I joined Kendrion 15 months ago I was thrilled to explore the full potential of AI. Together with people from the business units and IT, my team and I have developed a roadmap to deploy several exciting, game-changing technologies that we’re confident will further improve our operations, increase customer satisfaction, and drive our growth.
One recent introduction is “Smart Glasses”. We first used these in the new plant in China. During COVID, our colleagues there were not allowed to visit the supplier of a new test bench for training. Using the Smart Glasses, engineers from our testing department in Germany, together with the supplier, guided our colleagues through the set up – in real time – via live streaming and self-created training videos.
Now, we see plenty of potential for this technology. For example, we can more easily bring experts from around the world together to resolve a challenge, discuss an opportunity or share their expertise through training. And reducing travel decreases our costs and impact on the environment.
We also see enormous potential in Virtual Reality (VR), for everything from global design meetings to reviewing design to releasing production facilities, virtual commissioning, and training plant operators. By integrating VR in our process flow, we will be able to work with global experts and end users on new manufacturing equipment or even new concepts to build our ideal production environment. VR will also help us finetune the design of production equipment, shortening the start-up and acceptance phases. Other benefits include improved plant availability, process stability, investment security, more efficient planning, and shorter time to market.
Augmented Reality (AR) is another technology on our wish list. Our workers will be able to access information and instructions in real time without having to consult manuals or other materials. This can significantly improve the efficiency and accuracy of our manufacturing, by helping reduce errors, improve quality control, and speed up our production processes. AI will help us make best practices digitally accessible to everyone.
We are already exploring several use cases for Artificial Intelligence (AI), including predictive maintenance, process optimization and quality control. Using AI technology, we make our business more intelligent, so that we can make more informed and faster decisions, improve the accuracy of our processes, and optimize our use of resources.
Finally, we are also looking into how a matrix-structured manufacturing system could enable us to produce multiple product variants simultaneously. Clearly, this would significantly increase our flexibility and productivity and speed up response time to our customers’ needs.
Building relations with the right partners
On a recent trip to China, my team and I met with various suppliers who are building automated product lines and the individual parts of injection molding systems for our automotive products. We were very pleased to meet with them in person and discuss critical process issues and optimization opportunities. It is crucial that our production lines are AI-safe, flexible, stable, and easy to integrate with the above technologies.
Our visit was also a great opportunity to forge closer relations with our Chinese colleagues. We held a workshop on how to assemble eCDV, provided Zwick training, and supported them in installing and optimizing assembly devices. In the evening and over lunch, we enjoyed typical Chinese hospitality with great meals and trips to local sights.
It’s an exciting time at Kendrion, and I’m pleased to be a part of this crucial transition to make us more efficient, intelligent, and resilient in the face of the winds of change.