Manufacturing of automobile engines has changed dramatically since I first entered one in 1990. The “dark ages” of engine manufacturing really were dark. The plant was poorly lit, partly due to the haze from evaporating machining oil. The control enclosures were painted dark green. Floors were slick with oil and littered with metal chips from the machining processes. The noise was so bad that hearing protection barely worked.

Things had changed for the better by the time I left that plant for the last time at the end of 1997. Fast forward to 2011 and you’d never believe the changes.

I visited Hungary June 6-10 to attend the 9th Festo International Press Conference. On Wednesday we were treated to a tour of the Audi plant in Györ. This plant is both an assembly plant (see the picture of my next car–well, maybe) and an engine plant. Lean Manufacturing concepts were everywhere in evidence. The plant is well lit, clean, quiet and efficient. Of course, Festo pneumatic control products were all over the place.

Highlights of the press conference:

Christian Leonhard, Head of Global Factories for Festo, told us that Festo had sales of 1.8 billion euros with 14,600 employees. It invests about 8.5 percent of its revenues in research and development. It is a global manufacturer–and itself uses Lean Manufacturing throughout.

The theme of the day was energy efficiency, and Dr. Axel Gomeringer, Head of Innovation and Technology Management, suggested that the quest for increased energy efficiency would propel the next major innovation cycle. Like many companies I talk with, Festo is putting strategic thinkers into positions to conceptualize sustainability and its impact on products, processes and plants.

Festo has been great at turning loose its research group to study “bionics” that is replicating biological forms using pneumatics for motion. This year’s product is a sea gull that actually flies. Below is a picture. We were in a new building that had a large empty room. The day was too windy to fly it outside.

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