An ever greater demand for customization and the variety that comes with it, together with uncertain development of quantity, mean that the automotive industry is facing some major challenges. Classic assembly line production is no longer feasible for the most part and new avenues in production need to be found. Which requirements does this place on production logistics and how has KNAPP responded? We take a closer look at these issues and trends in this interview with Christian Brauneis, Vice President of the Industry Business Unit.
Which challenges are automobile manufacturers currently facing?
Christian Brauneis: The uncertain development of the quantity of electric and internal combustion engines is a major issue. No one can say for sure how this trend will develop. What is clear, however, is that circumstances will change. This means that classic assembly lines built for long-term production will no longer be financially feasible in the future. The increasing demand for customization and the variety that comes with it are also key challenges. In the future, car-makers will have to arrange their assembly lines dynamically so that many different types of cars can be built at a single line.
Trends within the automotive industry have given terms such as sequence, availability, sequence precision, zero-error strategy and flexibility a whole new meaning. Systems need to be able to adapt despite a lesser degree of predictability.
What would these dynamic, flexible assembly lines look like?
Christian Brauneis: A number of manufacturers are already working with new manufacturing models. There is no static allocation of vehicle type to station as previously seen in classic assembly line production. Free-moving transport robots bring stations, cells and car bodies together and carry out additional tasks. This ensures maximum flexibility. A classic production line only makes sense for products with a predictable life cycle and a consistent design. In areas undergoing constant change or where quantities are small, such as the luxury sector, it doesn’t make sense to invest in a single production line for a single type over several years.
Such flexibility poses a huge logistical challenge. How can KNAPP support customers here?
Christian Brauneis: The automotive industry surpasses all others when it comes to covering and managing the supply chain. The demand for a meticulous supply of parts to wherever they are installed, down to the minute, requires a sophisticated logistics concept. This process begins as early on as at the suppliers of these parts and intensifies as it approaches the vehicle production as just one missing part means a defective car. Nonetheless, the production and clock speeds need to be kept high at all times. Extremely high availability, performance and a strict sequence all the way through to the installation location are indispensable around the clock. This places huge demands on logistics, technology and customer service. The surge in trends means logistics systems need to be more flexible, which can require changes in the production procedure.
The automatic storage system, OSR Shuttle™ Evo, can be adapted at any time to fit various demands for performance and volumes, therefore providing excellent flexibility. What’s more, we can also put our years of experience to good use when it comes to driverless warehouse vehicles. Our autonomous mobile robots, the Open Shuttles, have been especially developed to assist with flexible transport of goods. We also have experience in tugger train solutions. With the image processing systems developed by KNAPP’s subsidiary ivii, we can also cover the issue of quality assurance in assembly.