Festo: automation for the future

Electronics manufacturing at the Scharnhausen Technology Plant employs different testing methods to ensure superior quality.
Festo has invested upwards of €70m in the expansion of its ultra-modern technology plant in Ostfildern-Scharnhausen.

Jonny Williamson takes a tour of Festo’s ultra-modern technology plant in Ostfildern-Scharnhausen (just outside Stuttgart, Germany), a site heralded as the forefront of automation for the future.

To the unassuming, travelling across Europe to visit a factory which manufactures valves, valve terminals and electronics might not seem like the most appealing prospect.

The Scharnhausen Technology Plant – Festo’s main site for the production of valves, valve terminals and electronics.
The Scharnhausen Technology Plant – Festo’s main site for the production of valves, valve terminals and electronics.

This particular factory, however, is different. What’s produced, in some respects, is immaterial, because it’s the means of production which is of more importance.

Festo’s technology plant in Ostfildern-Scharnhausen incorporates lean and energy-efficient processes; embodies a truly sustainable ethos; incorporates a learning factory; fosters close collaboration across divisions, and successfully leverages the establishment of an efficient value chain and stream.

Occupying 66,000 sqm and employing some 1,200 people, the German industrial control and automation company has invested upwards of €70m in the expansion of the site.

What was once known as the oldest factory in Festo’s portfolio has been transformed into a demonstration factory to showcase the future of manufacturing for both employees and customers alike – with a special emphasis on Festo products being made by Festo products.

According to its head of production, Stefan Schwerdtle, Scharnhausen creates value across four performance areas:

  • Assembly – automated mass production assembly of solenoid and piezo valves, combined with manual assembly of valves and valve terminals with highest variance.
  • Metal-cutting manufacturing – machining of valve bodies for mass production, profiles and components for handling technology and products.
  • Electronics – production of electronic components and flat modules for mass production, electrical and pneumatic drive technology and products.
  • Customer solutions – specialised manufacturing and assembly of customer specific products, modules for high pressure pneumatics and system solutions.

Schwerdtle tells me that the plant not only helps bolster Festo’s global competitiveness today, it also helps prepare the company to meet future requirements. “We have created the space necessary for cooperative technology and product developments, and considerably improved the time to market through optimised procedures and realigned core processes,” he says.

Value mapping  

 A core principle behind Scharnhausen’s success is its holistic value stream management.
A core principle behind Scharnhausen’s success is its holistic value stream management.

A core principle behind Scharnhausen’s success is its holistic value stream management, with every stream – from development, logistics and production – maintained in an optimal state of flux.

“We are concentrating on identifying bottlenecks in the value stream and aligning the processes accordingly – by doing this, we can avoid delays and ensure a smooth sequence of operations,” describes Stefan Labonde, the plant’s head of material management.

An example of this approach’s success can be found in the production of Festo’s DGSL pneumatic mini slide. By carrying out all of the processing stages at one location, overall transport distance has plummeted from 32km to just 240m, and throughput time has fallen by 66%.

Flexible working

By incorporating the views of those from purchasing; IT; logistics; production and HR, the plant moved from intricate architectural drawing to reality in just three years, and vitally, is a plan which constantly evolves.

Employees get qualifications and training in a practical and needs-based manner: the Learning Factory is an integral part of the Technology Plant.
Employees get qualifications and training in a practical and needs-based manner: the Learning Factory is an integral part of Scharnhausen.

“The development process is by no means complete now the plant is open,” Schwerdtle explains.

“We are faced with new challenges in the global competitive arena that is the automation sector, with employees who are ready to learn and are open to changes in their area of production. Also, the knowledge gained from our research into Industry 4.0 is channelled into the further development of the plant.

“This is how we are able to implement even complex changes in a sustainable manner.”

Automate UK – growth through automation

The Automation Advisory Board Thought Leadership Network’s annual conference, Automate UK will provide the opportunity to hear from industry experts not only making the case for automation equipment, but showcasing what is available and what it’s capable of.

By learning from the most innovative manufacturers embracing automation – including BMW Mini; Jaguar Land Rover; Aston Martin; Accolade Wines; Lambert Engineering; Philips AVENT; Brother Industries, and GKN Aerospace, Automate UK offers a unique benchmarking and learning experience to all those who attend.

With the limited free places available expected to go quickly, you’ll need to be swift to secure your place before full price tickets will be the only option available.

Find out more information here.