Connected immersive visualisation is an integral part of the UK digital factory initiative
“To Siemens, more productivity always means more volume, which leads naturally to attracting more business.”
Over the last decade, Siemens in Congleton has been on a business transformation journey. The site in the northwest of the UK manufactures industrial drives for applications such as airport conveyor systems, and they export 98% of the products they make to 78 different countries worldwide. As the world economy started its road to recovery following the last recession, Siemens started seeing increasing demand for such products. They used this point in time to revolutionise their business, and set an ambitious goal to become world-class in their field.
Their move to world-class status was underpinned by a clear goal to increase productivity, to the tune of approximately seven percent every year. To Siemens, more productivity always means more volume, which leads naturally to attracting more business. Seven percent was a challenging target, requiring new ways of thinking and innovative ideas to decrease costs and increase output. To achieve this, they decided to embrace a culture of continuous improvement, which has become an ongoing philosophy. Now, every day, Siemens ask themselves how they can do things better than they did yesterday, in all areas of the organisation.
One of the major challenges facing the team in Congleton was the rapidly changing demands of their customers. In recent years, the market has set expectations of mass customisation, requiring individually tailored solutions.
This has effectively generated the need for smaller personalised batches of products, with a trend moving towards lot sizes of one. However, customers still require such products to be delivered to the same tight schedules as uniform, mass produced items. Almost overnight, the number of product variants produced by the site rocketed from 600 to 17,000.
Meeting this emerging challenge became a critical focus area for Siemens. It has made the need to focus on productivity gains continuous improvement even more essential.
One of the constraining factors, however, is the physical space available at the site. With new housing developments to one side, business units to another, and the River Dane passing nearby, expanding the footprint is near impossible. Precisely optimising the existing limited footprint using virtual reality in manufacturing is essential, therefore, in maximising that productivity.
Many advances have taken place in Congleton to address these productivity targets, such as a series of cultural changes. Amongst the most significant of these advances has been the implementation of their ‘Factory of the Future’ initiative.
This embraces Industry 4.0 thinking, through an integrated, end-to-end suite of technology designed to fully digitise the production environment. Some of this technology derives from Siemens’ own organisation, and some of it is sourced from leading external solution providers. The initiative is enabling forward-thinking innovative and lean approaches, which are powering continuous improvements, required to maintain competitiveness.
'Factory of the future’ has spawned a number of innovation programmes, facilitated by their suite of digital solutions. For example, Siemens has embarked on ‘virtualisation’ of the Congleton site, creating a live digital replica of their facilities to better optimise its layout and understand its performance.
They have also put in place a lean work cell design process, known as d-LCD, consisting of a series of stages designed to bring new work cells into operation faster and more effectively. Agile methods have also been applied to product development in order to reduce their timescales and get those products to market faster.
A critical constituent of the ‘Factory of the Future’ initiative is the connected immersive visualisation platform from Virtalis.
The Visionary Render solution enables Siemens Congleton to have at their fingertips a realistic 1:1 scale virtual model of their evolving new products, manufacturing work cells and even their complete production environment. This enables all stakeholders to experience a virtual version of products as they are being developed, or all or part of the current or proposed future, production facility. Having this enterprise platform available as part of the digitisation of the Congleton factory enables teams to collaborate together more effectively and communicate clearly using a common visual language. Visionary Render for engineering is therefore proving highly valuable in helping Siemens to realise their productivity targets.
Having a digital replica of the Congleton plant, experienced through immersive visualisation in Visionary Render, has proven fundamental for Siemens Congleton in virtualising the site.
It has played a huge part in optimising the use of space and flow of materials from incoming goods right through to dispatch of finished products. In an environment where making the most of the limited space available is critical, having the flexibility to freely configure a layout virtually enables easy, fast and safe investigation of alternatives. In one optimisation exercise alone, efficiency savings of £300,000 were realised.
“ The Virtual Factory gives us a big-picture view, so we can identify areas to improve efficiency, cut out waste, and prevent problems in the physical world. This has resulted
in more innovation, flexibility and productivity. ”
Managing Director, Siemens Congleton
Visionary Render also forms a critical element of the d-LCD lean work cell design process. It has enabled immersive visualisation to replace the previous process of creating cardboard physical mock-ups of proposed new work cells. The ability for production teams to explore agile design and proposed layouts in a realistic virtual manufacturing environment has proven far more effective than the old physical prototypes ever could.
The enhanced visibility and understanding of aspects like ergonomic factors – the reach of a tool or table surface, for example – has led to a huge reduction in the number of issues found in the physical work cells. This used to average around 50 issues per work cell, and this has been reduced to around 9, a saving which is directly attributable to the use of Virtalis immersive visualisation.
The d-LCD process, aided by Visionary Render, is allowing Siemens to bring work cells into production within 9 weeks, a significant decrease from the previous lead-time of 13 weeks.
The subsequent reduction in resource and materials saves around £16,000 per work cell, equating to an annual saving of nearly £100,000. It has also opened up valuable manufacturing floor space, which was previously ring-fenced for the construction of work cell physical prototypes.
Siemens Congleton’s agile design methodology also incorporates extensive use of immersive design reviews.
In an environment where product variety has increased dramatically, it is essential for multi-disciplinary teams to have the ability to collaboratively experience a lifelike virtual product in Visionary Render as it is being developed. Uniting teams via a common visual language to agree consensus more rapidly, and make better informed decisions, has helped reduce time-to-market dramatically. This agile design methodology, of which Visionary Render is a key constituent, has halved the time taken to launch new products, from an average of 24 months, down to 12 months.