Bio-inspired product development using agile project management

Bionics – the future of mechanical engineering?” was how Christian Colceriu formulated his question in 2016. Can the question already be answered today? I say unequivocally: yes, we can!

Why we should definitely take lessons from the field of bionics

In order to master a technical problem, a variety of different concepts are usually developed and evaluated. The question of which solution offers the highest technical and commercial value has to remain paramount. To arrive at effective solutions, however, we can also do some “cribbing”: in nature, we can discover an amazing number of phenomena that can in principle be transferred to mechanical engineering. What we mean by the term “bionics” is this: learning from nature for autonomous engineering design work. The core argumentation here is that nature automatically develops optimised structures through evolutionary processes. Bionics accordingly offer an enormous potential for optimisation – and we at Krones are now aiming to harness this for bottle handling.

What’s special about this is that the project is designed using the bionic top-down process. This means that the engineer approaches the biologist with a technical question. The starting point is products that are already on the market and for which technical challenges are to be tackled by means of new strategies.

By way of comparison: in the contrasting bottom-up method, a characteristic is discovered at an organism that is also of interest for technicians. The bottom-up process, then, is initiated by biology.

What agile project management involves

In this project, moreover, the basic thinking behind agile project management is utilised. Why? Today’s world is evolving with increasing speed and dynamism, so for companies it’s of immense importance to identify the added value provided by selected technical advances and changes, and to integrate it into their portfolios – and it’s precisely this rapid response that characterises what is called agile project management. Companies have to be able to put new products on the market within a minimised timeframe. This is the only way to offer the customer products of a quality that also conforms to the current state of the art.

It’s precisely these goals that we are also pursuing in the CRD Idea and Technology Management Department, particularly in the form of the project and the bachelor thesis entitled “Bio-inspired product development of a flexible bottle handling system with the aid of agile project-management methods”. The aim is to present a mechanical bottle handling system on the prototype level at the Krones Innovation Days on 16 July 2018. Taking a longer-term view, the aim is to develop a flexible handling system that renders change-overs for handling parts superfluous.

The team behind this project comprises Katarina Maihöfner, Maximilian Weinzierl and Benedikt Schröpf.

Below I should like to acquaint you in more detail with the procedural model adopted for the project, with what is called the Scrum and with the Task Board. Basically, this involves a non-digital visualisation of work packages with the aid of post-its.

On the left of the picture you can see the artefacts of the Scrum. First of all, the work packages and requirements within the project are collected, prioritised, clustered and continually expanded in the Product Backlog. At the weekly Sprint Planning session, these work packages are then shifted from the Product Backlog into the Sprint Backlog, which constitutes the work inventory for the next sprint. We are now located on the right-hand poster, the Task Board. There, every morning, the team members gather for the daily stand-up meeting, discuss the current status of the work packages, and assign themselves new tasks from the pool of the Sprint Backlog. On the board, an individual work package passes through three main stations.

I have to admit that I really liked this Task Board. I myself like using post-its, in order to cluster important keywords and topics from my studies. The Task Board usually does just the same – only on the project management level.

I at any rate am looking forward to what awaits us on the Innovation Days regarding this exciting topic!