Automation is the future, even when it comes to manufacturing. Continental, the German multinational automotive parts manufacturer, is embracing the change. As part of its industry 4.0 model, Continental has made several changes to the way products are made, including high levels of automation.
The event, telecasted virtually, was, in essence, Continental’s Industry 4.0 model plant and a tour of the company’s facility located in Regensburg, a city in eastern Bavaria, Germany.
The goal for Continental under the Industry 4.0 ecosystem is to cut costs and standardise equipment for the entire manufacturing and logistics process. René Krahn, the Plant and Location Manager said, ” We don’t have to create a very rigid automation system for the logistics floor or have major investments. Instead, we can use what we have in the facility, in our shelves, and utilise our competence to create value within 12 months.”
The plant at Regensburg has a production space of 20,700 square metres that produces over 11 billion electronic components per year with the help of 2200 operators running the plant 24/7 in 21 shift models. The plant manufactures safety and electronic components, along with powertrain and interior products.
While the numbers may look impressive, what is to note is the quality, and Continental claims that its defective parts are less than 3 parts per million (ppm), and its failure rate in production is under 0.5 ppm. This translates to 1 faulty part due to internal processes in 2 million parts manufactured.
Logistics is a crucial part of Continental’s operations globally. Having facilities in various countries, including India, Express Drives was inquisitive on how the ongoing pandemic affected the German manufacturer’s operations. Our questions were on two perspectives — Logistics and Automation.
René Krahn, the Plant and Location Manager at Continental, explains that the ongoing COVID 19 Pandemic has had a significant impact on Continental, not only with operations but logistics as well. He says how the worldwide logistics chain is sensitive to glitches, which eventually disrupts the Just In Time (JIT) deliveries Continental has with most clients.
Krahn says, “Last year, we did have trouble keeping up with the speed of deliveries. This was a big problem. The usage of the data systems helped Continental optimise our systems to the best. The Data also helped us predict what’s going to happen next, and if there’s a glitch, how we can react in a very flexible manner.”
Continental made significant investments to keep the workplace safe for the employees and ensured that the employees maintained social distancing and segregated them into sections. “There were technological measures as well, to make the facility a touch-free zone, right from the parking lot to the shop floor”, adds Krahn.
And speaking on how logistics affected other countries, especially India, where the pandemic had a severe effect, Krahn says, “We were well-informed of what happened in India, as well as our other facilities around the globe. We had to adjust our production schedules.”
“It was clear that only in collaboration with our customers, our sub-suppliers, and our internal support teams were we able to manage the crisis. It (the pandemic) was something that we have never heard or seen before to that level or extent.” Krahn says that only with the help of “close communication and the data systems” was Continental able to react faster and reschedule production quicker.
“The Industry 4.0 model helped us manage the crisis, and the pandemic was a driver to digitisation in many areas. For example, the production floor could interact virtually with those working from home.” Krahn says that the new automation and digitisation process can be seen in other Continental facilities globally. He says, “Every production site is part of the Industry 4.0 network.”
Speaking on how automation played a crucial role during the pandemic, the Plant and Location Manager says, “The increase in automation has had a dramatic decrease in terms of direct labour. Doing so has raised the need for highly qualified job profiles, resulting in fewer people on the job floor, making the facility safer during such a situation.”
Finally, addressing the query if robots can replace humans altogether, Krahn says. “It does change the world we are working in for sure, but we will need highly qualified people to fill in those roles that are outside the capabilities of digitisation.”
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