On the way to the Smart Factory: KEB digitises production

Interview with Phillip Hannesen on the challenges of Industry 4.0

Manufacturers and customers benefit equally from an increase in efficiency in production. One of the keys to achieving this is the digitization of production processes. But what exactly does that mean in practice and to what extent is the "smart factory" changing the way work has been done so far? In this interview, Phillip Hannesen, Digital Transformation Manager Production, provides insights into the digital transformation that production at KEB Automation is currently facing.

Of what importance is digitization in the area of production at KEB?

Phillip Hannesen: At KEB, as at any other company, resistant and adaptable business processes are becoming increasingly relevant in strategic corporate planning. In this context, digitization should be seen as a key tool in the face of external market influences, official regulations, climate change and demographic change. With a digital strategy for production at KEB, we want to support the further reduction of waste and redundancies and thus create efficient and safe processes. The production systems are to be equipped with maximum transparency and flexibility in the course of a comprehensive Industry 4.0 orientation.


Can you give a concrete example of a digitised process?

One use case was the introduction of the assistance system specially developed at KEB, which uses the existing database thanks to its connection to the ERP system. At the same time, it serves as an umbrella system for any subsystems at the workplace. In this first use case, a pick-to-light system was connected to support picking at the packaging workstation. Using instructions on a large monitor, it was not only possible to get rid of the papers at this workplace, but all interactions with other systems were also integrated into the assistance system via interfaces. This included searching for information in the work plan, parts list and documentation in the ERP system, operating the printer software or switching orders for the driverless transport system. Also, the communication with area managers and specialist departments, for example in the event of an error, was included in the range of functions. In this way, the entire work process could be mapped in the assistance system.

What particular challenges are you dealing with in the context of Industry 4.0?

One of the most complex challenges is the transformation of the company into a comprehensive digital ecosystem. The virtual image of the organisation that is fundamentally emerging in the process enables the networking and communication of areas and individuals that were previously not networked in the physical world. This takes place at different levels in the company: Between and within departments, hierarchical levels, locations, but also across companies in relation to customers and suppliers. The digital ecosystem makes it possible to transfer the evolved self-organisation of the individual physically separated business units into a virtual collective. In the process, redundancies are reduced and the know-how available in the company is bundled and secured.

There are often concerns that jobs will get lost as a result of increasing digitization. How do you assess this?

At KEB, we use process digitization as a tool to strengthen the location and its competitiveness and thus secure jobs in the long term. Digitization and automation are suitable for improving work processes and thus working conditions for people and protecting them from menial and dangerous work. Often employees themselves contribute with their valuable experience to the application-oriented implementation of digitization projects.
Therefore, we explicitly cultivate a project culture in such projects in which all those affected are involved. So far, no job has been lost as a result of a digitization project, and this will remain the case in the future.


To what extent do customers benefit from digitised production at KEB?

The path to smart production brings a number of advantages for KEB's customers. Not only the increased transparency, but also the safeguarding of competitiveness are indirect consequences of digitised production production. KEB's customers benefit specifically by guaranteeing the highest quality due to optimally coordinated production processes. And the reduction of throughput time is also an item on the digital roadmap. 

Looking into the future of production: What further developments and digitisation trends do you expect?

In the first step, we will set down our concrete goals in terms of content and time in the form of a digital agenda. The first fundamental step will then be to establish the Industrie 4.0 idea in production and its associated areas. The structural requirements must be created for this. The organisational units are then successively transferred into the digital ecosystem in form of a virtual representation until complete networking is possible. The goals are to be defined individually for each business unit and their compliance is to be evaluated again and again.