One theme that I’ve seen cropping up quite regularly from manufacturers recently is a bigger emphasis on logistics. Logistics may not initially seem a likely way to increase efficiency on the factory floor, but to manufacturers who have pruned and tweaked processes elsewhere, concentrating on logistics may be the last of the low hanging fruit before making serious changes to business practises. The process of digitising and optimising logistics and the supply chain can make a big difference to many companies immediately.
The subject was brought to my mind during a recent working trip to Germany when it came up on two different occasions. It initially materialised at the Hanover Messe preview when Dr. Jochen Köckler, Chairman of the Managing Board at Deutsche Messe, was detailing why the CeMAT exhibition had been brought back into the main Messe event. Today’s working practices rely on a lean philosophy that demands the elimination of waste and the integration of manufacturing, logistics and the supply chain are integral to its success.
CeMAT’s theme this year is "Connected Supply Chain Solutions" and its stated aim is to “drive forward the digital integration and networking of value-adding and supply chains”. The theme highlights that the optimisation of the supply chain is not really a problem that can be accomplished alone by a single company. It must work in concert with its partners to make the complete supply chain more efficient as a whole. I’m sure CeMAT will prove an interesting event for anyone that is visiting the main show and the innovation on show will provide some inspiration for the future.
The second event that concerned logistics was a visit to HARTING’s new high-tech distribution centre. HARTING’s aim for the new facility is to provide customers with a quicker and more efficient fulfilment channel. As time pressure increases in business, engineers don’t want to wait for the components that they need for their new products. If they can’t buy immediately from a preferred supplier, they will go elsewhere to someone who can. HARTING has adopted much of the innovation that will be seen at CeMAT into the facility to streamline its operation and get orders out the door quicker. The company has a vertical view of the industry at times, and as well as producing connectors, it designs and manufactures the machines that make those connectors. It will also incorporate its MICA embedded platform to help run the distribution centre when it opens next year, which is as good of an example as possible of how logistics and manufacture are inextricably linked in Industry 4.0 production.
Germany is an interesting place to visit manufacturers. Despite a somewhat stuffy, conservative reputation, the companies there, especially the small and medium sized ones, are leading the way in the development and implementation of tomorrow’s manufacturing and they seem to have their eyes on logistics as an integral part of the solution.