10 to the power of 40 variations

Highly flexible assembly lines at the Scharnhausen Technology Plant

Whether it is a batch size of one or an annual production volume of 2.5 million, the new Festo Scharnhausen Technology Plant shows how flexibility and speed go hand in hand. Industry 4.0 has been implemented wherever possible. Thanks to the synergy between manual production and modular assembly lines, the plant can produce 10 to the power of 40 product variations.

The Festo Scharnhausen Technology Plant symbolises cuttingedge automation: 66,000 square metres, 1,200 employees, a sophisticated, highly efficient value chain, open communication with the Learning Factory and creative think tanks. Networked systems enable the first Industry 4.0 technology solutions to be created. Every day employees interact directly and safely with a flexible robot. Information and materials flow quickly, flexibly and reliably in seamless value streams.

Short routes

In the lean Technology Plant, the individual manufacturing processes are linked to each other by the shortest of routes. They are arranged so that, as far as possible, there is no need for interim buffering across warehouse stocks. For example, while some processes used to be distributed across several plants over a distance of 32 kilometres, they now take place in a space measuring just 120 metres inside the Technology Plant. High-quality products, valves and valve terminals, electronic components and customer solutions are thus produced under one roof in a very short space of time.

In perfect shape

Metal-cutting machines weighing several tons stand in an area covering 14,000 square metres on the ground floor of the Technology Plant. Turning, milling, drilling and grinding – in the machining department, precision components made of metal are manufactured for further processing in the assembly process. The production lines work around the clock to produce the basic elements for Festo products, such as valve housings and individual components for linear units. They produce millions of valve sealing cartridges for valves per year and tens of thousands of valve housings per day. The components are given their surface finish in the plating tanks, which are housed in the same building.

Fully automated and manual

The production range of the Technology Plant extends from manual production at the Customer Solutions Performance Centre to highly flexible, energy-efficient assembly lines, such as the two modular assembly systems for manufacturing valves from the VUVG series. Here, eight production cells spread over 30 metres operate in sequence. Several million valves can be assembled annually, with cycle times of less than 15 seconds. Many of the company’s own products and solutions are used here. In other words, Festo products are used to manufacture Festo products. Each line produces over 50 individual variations of different sizes, with 20 variations making up over 80 per cent of the total volume.

Manual work is still required when it comes to assembling the valves into valve terminals as well as for special solutions and single components for individual customer needs. Quantities vary from a few thousand a year or a small batch of several hundred to just a single item. For some products, which have to be made according to individual customer specifications in a very short space of time, there may be as many as 10 to the power of 40 variations.

Electronics included

Many products simply wouldn’t exist without electronics. In the Technology Plant, 200 employees produce complex electronic assemblies and products in an area covering 6,000 square metres. 2.5 million of them are produced each year for use by the company itself. The areas responsible for further processing receive either complete assemblies in their housing or mounted circuit boards. Here too, the variations run into the hundreds.

Innovation in automation

Besides offering highly efficient and competitive production, the new plant also sets an example. It is used by Festo as a reference factory for its customers to demonstrate the latest automation technology. The Technology Factory is characterised by lean and energy-efficient processes as well as highly sustainable and environmentally-friendly production. The plant’s green credentials were acknowledged with a Platinum Certificate by the German Sustainable Building Council (DGNB) which was awarded in September 2015. The high degree of adaptability of the production site and the creation of efficient value chains and value streams were decisive factors for the overall plant concept. Plant manager Stefan Schwerdtle is positive about the future: “With the Technology Plant we are well prepared for future requirements. We have created the space necessary for co-operative technology and product development and considerably improved the time to market through optimised procedures and reoriented core processes.”

An employee works with the assembly robot in an intuitive and safe manner.

Human-machine interaction

Many of the aspects of Industry 4.0 – such as human-machine interaction – are already a reality in the Scharnhausen Technology Plant. The assembly robot grips housings, joins cartridges and frames together and passes the component on to a worker for further processing. Such teamwork poses no risk for the individual. Sensors continuously monitor all the robot’s actions. It does this thanks to a specially developed plastic “skin” fitted with highly sensitive sensors. As soon as an employee comes too close to it, the robot slows down or just stops. Thanks to effective safety mechanisms, the robot does not have to be behind bars.

  1. This article was published in the Festo customer magazine trends in automation 1.2016

March 2016