The Festo International Press Conference has taken me on manufacturing and technology tours to Germany and Hungary in the past. This year’s event was a short drive down Interstate 75 to Cincinnati, Ohio. Here a large international press contingent toured its new $70 M state-of-the-art distribution and manufacturing center.
The facility features a highly automated order picking system unique to the manufacturing industry in North America and only comparable to the highly sophisticated warehouse systems of the strongest retail brands. With these new premises Festo is now able to triple its capacities: This allows for more flexibility, improved services and offers plenty of space for future growth.
Excellent growth prospects
The center is designed to allow for the speed and flexibility needed to accommodate Festo’s future growth in the NAFTA market (US, Canada and Mexico). The RSC will also support the expected growth in Mexico, which is becoming a recognized hub for the automotive industry. The new center has Foreign Trade Zone status, which makes it faster and more efficient to support customers in the US, Canada and Mexico from a central US location.
With a storage capacity of 65,000 bins, the highly automated warehouse system – implemented by Witron, the leading designer and supplier of fully automated warehouse and logistics systems – features seven high-performance picking stations and the capability to pick and pack 1,000 items per hour. “As regional and US sales continue to grow, this Regional Service Center will provide a strong product supply backbone for the North American market with best in class supply chain performance“, said Yannick Schilly, Head of Product Supply NAFTA
and RSC Mason.
Festo Value Production (Lean)
The facility features an implementation of the Festo Value Production system (FVP). This system is based on closely involving employees in defining standards and continuously improving processes and technical solutions. Great emphasis is placed on consistent communication as well as the visualization of objectives and results. It is thus possible to produce globally over 30,000 products with countless variants and deliver tailor-made solutions to customers all over the world within a matter of days.
The Regional Service Center features both an assembly area and the warehousing/picking area. When assembly is completed, the finished product is transported to the Regional Service Center (RSC) for shipment. All components in a system are grouped by barcode, packaged for shipping, and then shipped out to schedule.
“Our customers in North America expect top quality ‘made by Festo’, with guaranteed supplies and next-day delivery at prices in keeping with local market conditions. At the same time, energy efficiency, environmental protection and occupational safety are becoming increasingly important. The Regional Service Center in Mason/Ohio will secure our regional supplies to the North American market for the years ahead,” concludes Dr. Dirk Erik Loebermann, Chief Operation Officer and Member of the Festo Management Board.
Training and Apprenticeship Program
Festo has established a separate group, Festo Didactic, which provides training and apprenticeship programs both for Festo products and systems as well as for automation in general. In Mason, Didactic has partnered with Sinclair Community College and five companies in the Cincinnati tri-state area (Art Metal Group, Clippard Instruments, Festo Inc., MQ Automation, Nestlé) to create a two-year Mechatronics Apprenticeship Program to help employers develop the skills that are missing in the workforce today by combining theoretical education, hands-on training, and on the job training. The apprenticeship is designed to help individuals learn advanced manufacturing skills as well as earn an associate’s degree in mechatronics.
The first cohort of the program includes 11 apprentices who are training for careers as maintenance technicians, automation specialists, service technicians, and manufacturing technicians. The program uses the German apprenticeship model of dual education, where apprentices learn in a classroom and maintain a steady job.
Every week each apprentice spends one day at Sinclair Community College for classes, one day using state-of-the-art equipment at the new Festo Learning Center in Mason, and three days working at their respective employers. The apprentices are able to take what they learn in class, practice it at the Festo Learning Center, and then use that new knowledge and skill in a real-life work environment. “In terms of educational modality, the apprenticeship model couldn’t be a better fit for manufacturing,” says Vice President for Regional Centers at Sinclair Community College Scott Markland.
The Festo Learning Center is a unique part of the program. The Center is designed to meet international standards for production facilities and labs. It provides the apprentices a training facility where they can work with instructors on high-end Festo workstations that simulate a work environment and corresponds to their classroom curriculum.
For manufacturing companies in high-wage countries, Industry 4.0 provides an opportunity for remaining competitive on a global scale. “We are talking here about the transformation of industrial manufacture into a fully networked, flexible production system. To remain competitive, we must take the initiative with our characteristic spirit of inventiveness and give shape to this new development”, says Prof. Peter Post, Head of Corporate Research and Technology of Festo AG & Co. KG.
This transformation in the world of production is founded on digitalization, a crucial element in the merging of the virtual and real worlds. Prof. Post sees great potential here: “Digital refinement will give rise to increasingly intelligent products. In future, the individual elements of an overall system will be able to communicate with each other and autonomously control and regulate themselves. They are the core of industrial digitalization and support the production process through enhanced functionality – from classic aspects such as productivity and quality on to increasing individualization.”
To optimally leverage these new capabilities of intelligent products, cooperation needs to be established with many systems and business processes. “Together with our partners in Industry 4.0, we’re currently defining the new language of Industry 4.0. The German ‘Plattform Industrie 4.0’ with its widespread members from office and shop floor, as well as from standardizations and associations, works on joint reference models and international standards. This will allow for engineering the digital work stream in a kind of plug&play manner! The intelligent devices will describe themselves and will autonomously find the right collaboration partners”, details Dr. Michael Hoffmeister, representing the portfolio management software of Festo AG & Co. KG. “In the future, digitizing these virtual added values of a component will be as important as manufacturing the physical part”, he says.
Being one of the main drivers of standardization within Industry 4.0, Dr. Hoffmeister points out, how important worldwide collaboration is: “We’re working technically closely together with our colleagues from the Industrial Internet Consortium. Our business scopes are complementing each other and our architectures are mapping together”.
Festo Customers in the Region
We toured two customer plants in the area. HAHN Automation and Storopack.
HAHN Automation is one of the leading manufacturers of special machinery for automated production. Its main customers are the automotive industry and its suppliers. “We have a firm focus on customer proximity, since that is the only way we can ensure our quality standards and guarantee intensive project support,” says John Baines.
This strategy has borne fruit, as shown by the successful cooperation with customers located within three hours’ drive of Cincinnati. The nationwide list of customers reads like a who’s who of the industry: from BMW to BorgWarner, Brose, Continental or Mitsubishi, HAHN Automation’s customers include most of the industry’s global players. Another practical point is the closeness of its own facilities to Cincinnati Airport, which is just ten minutes away. This also explains why the company is developing and supplying its site in Mexico from its US factory.
Modular cell concept
HAHN Automation’s main concept is the MasterCell. A MasterCell can either be used as an automatic single workstation with manual component placement or combined into technologically sophisticated automation systems. The modular system design is based on the principle of fast and cost-effective expansion in line with demand as production quantities increase. In the MasterCell modern robots as well as leading-edge assembly and testing technology are used, making it suitable for challenging assembly and testing processes.
The benefits for customers include the standardized cell structure, ease of handling and operation, ergonomic design, high quality, high availability, short delivery times, great economic efficiency, flexible degrees of automation and high levels of customizability.
Festo automation components play an important role in the MasterCell concept: from the modular automation platform CPX/MPA to pneumatic drives from the standard product range and pneumatic grippers, HAHN Automation uses key products from the automation specialist. These are used in almost all assembly cells.
Packaging material is a typical throwaway product. Packages arrive, are opened, the goods are removed, and the filler material is thrown away. “Hardly anyone – apart from Storopack – thinks about how important it is to select the right protective packaging products in the right quantity and quality for a particular application,” explains Daniel Wachter, President of Storopack for North America in Cincinnati, Ohio. Incorrect or inadequate filler material can damage goods in transit, while excessive or incorrectly inserted protective packaging material can significantly reduce productivity at packing stations in distribution centers.
Storopack produces – among other things – its AIRplus film rolls to supply to distributors and customers throughout the world. During the primary process, plastic granulate is formed into basic plastic film at blown film lines. This is then wound onto rolls by winding machines. These machines are equipped with standard cylinders DSBC which allow the rollers of the winding machines to be correctly aligned, depending on the load.
On configuration lines in the secondary process, the film is configured to the required dimensions and perforations and packed as finished AIRplus rolls. Stamping tools are used to seal and perforate the infinite plastic film to form air cushions of specific widths and lengths. These lines are also equipped with pneumatic cylinders DSBC, as well as rotary cylinders DSNU-PPS, compact cylinders ADN and short-stroke cylinders ADVC, controlled in each case by individual valves CPE 14.