During the three-year planning and building period, Festo went to great lengths to optimise the design of the manufacturing processes, and to minimise the plant’s environmental and energy impacts. The layout was planned in AutoCAD and models of the factory floor were then produced using 3D printing, allowing staff to view and comment on the proposals. More than 800 models were built in this way. Festo is now planning to create a photographic map of the shopfloor similar to Google Street View.
Processes that were previously performed at different sites have been brought together in the new plant, making production more efficient, cheaper and “greener”. For example, the distance that a pneumatic mini-slide has to travel during manufacturing has been slashed from 32km at the previous plant to just 240m, cutting throughput times by 66%.
The plant’s advanced technologies include a collaborative robot, that works with human co-workers to assemble valve bodies. In 2012, Festo embarked on a project to develop the robot using technologies that it developed in-house. But it had to wait 18 months for the German safety authorities accepted that the technology was safe before it could use the machine. The first collaborative robot paid for itself in less than two years, and Festo is now planning to install five more.
A mobile maintenance system has been developed that uses iPads to show: the status and fault history of every machine; the availability of spare parts; real-time energy data; and illustrated instructions for the shopfloor machines.
The plant is also a showcase for Festo’s own automation components and a demonstration that manufacturing in Germany can compete with countries with lower wage costs.
Festo is using four levels of automation, depending on assembly cycle times. Items with cycle times of less than 5s are produced using high-volume automation systems. For those with cycle times from 5–13s, flexible automation is employed. For items with cycle times up to one minute, low-cost “intelligent” automation is deployed, while items with longer cycle times are assembled by hand.
As well as the manufacturing facilities, Festo’s new factory also includes a 20m-high automated warehouse with 80,000 storage locations, a fleet of “trains” that deliver and collect materials from different parts of the plant, a substantial training department, and dedicated rooms where staff can “brainstorm” new ideas.