Dipl.- Ing. (FH) Hans Reinerth im Interview

Factory planning means making decisions

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Hans Reinerth is project manager at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Engineering and Automation (IPA) in Stuttgart. Reinerth has been involved with factory planning methods for over 20 years and advises companies. What factors determine the planning, and what should one be aware of in a project? Our interview.

1. What challenges do factory designers face today?

Shorter product life cycles, changed technologies – these play an important role in factory planning. The core topic is the interaction of products, technologies and buildings, whereby the buildings still have to remain and function after the product phase-out. This interaction will be even more challenging in the future. Buildings and facilities must be constantly adapted to new market requirements. As a factory designer, we face the paradox that we need to plan for the manufacture of products that do not even exist at the time of our planning. Factory planning decisions are usually expensive, difficult to reverse, and long-lasting – these are the three issues that have always been critical, and that has not changed to this day.

2. Is there a unified paradigm and how did it come about?

For about ten years, the topics of sustainability and mutability play a central role. It is about a holistic view of processes and procedures, buildings and areas as well as the organisation. Organisational topics increasingly focus on the human factor. The realisation that the factory is not just a place where people spend eight hours every day between stamping in and stamping out is becoming increasingly important. What happens in between is also very important: atmosphere, communication, well-being. In Germany, we are increasingly dealing with order-related work, and this places particular demands on communication between the various departments.

3. What do flexibility and mutability mean?

Factory planning means making decisions. We always set a maximum, but how that is actually used can be quite different. The number of employees can also be used in certain areas to control how much is produced in a factory. There are many possible principles in the literature that, if used correctly, can lead to the desired improvement. In practice, a few approaches have proven to be useful in the context of every factory planning task. Mobility, i.e. the ability to relocate workplaces, production lines or even closed production areas spatially in new locations, is certainly one of them.

4. What mistakes are still being made and how can they be avoided?

A major source of error is too short a focus and incorrect formulation of the task. It often happens that a new plant should be set up quickly somewhere in the operation, but the prerequirements and consequences are not sufficiently considered. We always have to broaden our view and involve all concerned. The knowledge of the staff is very important, and to be able to use it one must get people involved in planning and communication. Also, one should not forego an ideal planning, for example, to be able to optimise the flow of material. Thus one recognises pros and cons early enough.

5. You recommend planning from the inside out. What does that look like concretely?

One always plans production processes, i.e. processes with all the required plants, resources, storage facilities, means of conveyance and so on. The aim is to find an ideal setup that optimally supports the production process. Outside, that’s the shell that supports the production process. The aspects of energy efficiency and environmental protection also play a role here. Ideally, the architect then puts the walls around our floor areas. The result is usually a compromise.

6. How can surface areas and paths be optimised?

There are clear procedures for area optimisation. However, one must differentiate between production areas, storage areas and social areas. All production areas are planned according to the plants; they specify the areas, the necessary supply infrastructure and the environment. In logistics, the containers, their dimensions and the transport technology play a role. After that, and according to legal requirements, the pathways are laid out. The social areas are determined according to the requirements of the Workplace Ordinance. The office planning is more complicated; there is the requirement of 10 square metres per employee, there are additional meeting rooms, communication islands et cetera.

7. What significance do modular and mobile room systems have?

From my experience, I can name three points: firstly, as enclosures of equipment that can affect other areas by sound or emissions. Secondly, hall heights can be better used by elevating units. Here C parts and small items can be stored on a stage. Assembly tables can be placed underneath. Thirdly, flexible offices. This is an important point as it creates interfaces between production and development, management and operational implementation. However, with higher supervisor offices, one should make sure that no one on the ground feels under surveillance. In addition, such systems are ideal for extensions and pilot laboratories can be easily docked to the production line.

8. How important is the flow of communication and how can it be promoted?

Communication is a very important issue – where people meet and under what circumstances is always an interesting question for us factory designers. With mobile room systems, it’s easy to create places for stand-up meetings where employees can exchange views every day for 15-20 minutes; which orders must be moved forward, where are there missing parts, and so on. Of course, quiet rooms are required here.

9. What changes with the Industry 4.0 concept?

In the future, factory planning must continue according to a system, as defined for example in the VDI standard 5200. However, we must be mindful of a number of trends: the Industry 4.0 concept will lead to a reduction in stock levels on site through customer-specific procurement options, as this is the only way to achieve the desired diversity of production variants. More flexible Automated Guided Vehicle Systems (AGVs) are an additional set screw that requires changes in logistics. The impact of the future human-robot interface is hard to assess today. Also, the communicative requirements will increase even further. Everything will become more flexible, but we will not be shifting machines daily or changing floor surface areas.

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