"Greenfield projects are the 'compulsory' program, while brownfield projects are 'freestyle'"
Bietigheim-Bissingen, May 2015 – Dürr Consulting advises customers on planning and optimizing their production operations. Peter Franz, head of Dürr Consulting, explains what tasks they take on and what current challenges they face.
What do you and your team of around 40 colleagues at Dürr Consulting do?
90 % of our work consists of supporting the automotive manufacturers' planning departments. Here we mainly focus on assembly: the production of passenger cars as well as any type of commercial vehicle, from van to bus. In addition, we plan continuous assembly systems and logistics in the aircraft industry. At the risk of sounding tongue-in-cheek: We don't cut steel. We don't make booths. We mainly produce paper.
Who are your most important customers?
They include the Cars, Vans and Trucks divisions of Mercedes-Benz as well as Audi, Porsche, BMW, Jaguar Land Rover and Bosch.
Why do globally successful automotive manufacturers ask you to plan their factories?
There are two reasons: We provide planning support because our customers do not have sufficient capacity to handle the large number of projects. And we have a lot of experience, from planning through to implementation. What’s more, our customers want to know about benchmarks and new ideas in their industry. We are familiar with the solutions of different OEMs and can, of course, also draw on many ideas of our own from our field of experience. This allows us to develop and recommend optimized solutions.
Why is it necessary to develop a new plan every time?
Well, no two factories are the same. There are significant differences in terms of capacity, model mix, component supply chain, site and processes, to name but a few factors. This results in different operational and organizational structures in the assembly process, which in turn affects the structural engineering, for example the grid for the pillars inside the building. So "copy and paste" simply doesn't work!
Can you give us a specific example?
There were two OEMs in Hungary which were planning a factory at the same time with a capacity of 30 car bodies per hour. But the layouts of their factories were very different, especially the assembly areas, for example in terms of line arrangement, automation and the just-in-time concept, meaning when and how many components such as engine, transmission, panes, doors, wheels or cockpit must be available at the assembly line. Every customer has different ideas and requirements.
At what point do you get involved in the planning?
In some cases our involvement starts with the selection of the site. One example was a motorcycle manufacturer planning a new factory in Eastern Europe, another was a factory for a bus producer in Oman. We often get involved in a project at the stage of the feasibility study, about four years before the start of production. So we are planning assembly systems today for 2018/2019.
What constitutes good planning from the customer's point of view?
This could be summarized with the following terms: space efficiency – in other words, low space requirements because an extra 1,000 square meters will lead to additional costs of around one million euros during construction; inventory efficiency – the logistics must be designed such that only three rather than ten units of a component must be available at the assembly line; operator efficiency – assembly tasks must be evenly distributed despite an increase in variant complexity to ensure that every employee working on the line is busy; budget security – reduced investment, which must be maintained during the implementation of our plan. And last but not least, flexibility of the system as a whole: if changes occur in terms of capacity, model or logistics, it should be possible to adapt the assembly process at minimum cost and without disrupting ongoing operations.
What system do you have in place for working with customers? Do you maintain constant dialog?
We provide customers with finalized plans. Of course dialog with the customer plays an important role during the planning. That's why we often work in close proximity to the customer to facilitate the communication and planning process with everyone involved.
Who works at Dürr Consulting?
Our employees are experts in their fields and are engineering or engineering management graduates. Apart from their knowledge of engineering, they also have a wealth of technical expertise and great communication skills. They need a high level of flexibility to deal with new and ever-changing tasks. That's what makes our work so interesting. We deal with new vehicle models at an early stage when the product only exists in digital form. We can be very creative and come up with new concepts. And sometimes we can monitor the progress of our plans when acting as the contractor's representative or as supervisor.
Do you always deal with new factories or do you also handle projects for restructuring?
Both. To use a sporting analogy: we see greenfield projects as the ‘compulsory’ program, and brownfield projects as ‘freestyle’. Restructurings are subject to a large number of restrictions. We have to come up with a changeover strategy during ongoing production. This requires well-thought-out, extensive planning.
Are there any important trends in automotive manufacturing which you have to take into account in your planning?
A clear trend is that the life cycle of a model is shortening while the variant complexity is increasing. This has a huge impact on the logistics and assembly processes. We have been involved in projects where we had to integrate two new model variants within one year. And every single step has to be checked. The customer-specific equipment variants of a model have increased enormously. Therefore cars produced in the final assembly line are individual pieces and sometimes even unique.