Design and production people getting together

Working groups have an image problem, admittedly. There has been too much protracted shop talk already, without this ever having led to any meaningful results. And nonetheless a lot of good can come of colleagues sitting round a table regularly and exchanging news and views on a certain topic – especially when such a round-table meeting brings together a varied selection of staff, each of them contributing their knowledge of different parts of the company. Recently, something much, much bigger even took shape at Krones: a Cluster Forum with 80 representatives from the industrial sector, the research community and academic institutes. Florian Lauterbach was crucially involved here, and explains what the “Additive Manufacturing in Series” Cluster Forum was all about.

Florian, what’s your current position at Krones?

As Head of the Emerging Technologies Department within our Central Research and Development operation (CRD), my team and I deal with up-to-the-future technologies for the group as a whole. These include robotics, material and surface treatment technologies, machine learning, and generative manufacturing. In this function, I’m a member of a working group that we set up inside the company last year, where we synergise knowledge on the topic of generative manufacturing already available in the CRD and Global Supply Chain Management (GSCM) Departments and in Product Development. We examine production processes, for example, plan seminars for staff and optimise interfaces – always from the different perspectives represented in the group. And we notice that with increasing frequency firms (e.g. from the automotive industry) get in touch with us specifically for mutual feedback on the subject of 3D printing.

And that’s how the idea emerged to expand the working group’s focus?

Precisely. We’ve noticed that in the industrial sector as a whole there’s already plenty of knowledge concerning additive manufacturing, but that at each company they likewise feel a need for mutual feedback and a wish to learn from others. What’s more, we also wanted to expand our network. And this is how the idea emerged to organise what is called a cluster forum here in our Neutraubling facility, in conjunction with the Cluster Mechatronik & Automation Association.

So you brought on board an external partner. Who was then responsible for what, and what did the organisational part look like?

In the working group, we defined the topics that we thought are exciting for us and then joined forces with Tom Weber, our contact person at Cluster Mechatronik & Automation, to draw up the agenda. The association was the organiser here, and Krones as the host provided the setting and the premises for the forum. Together with Tom Weber, we were able to offer a diversified and exciting programme, including practice-oriented presentations given from highly disparate perspectives for the following groups of topic: “Technologies – Process Chains – Business Models”, “Precision and Quality” and “Post-Production and Surface Treatment”. Speaking of disparate perspectives: representatives of Siemens, the Fraunhofer Institute and the Friedrich-Alexander University all took their place at the speaker’s lectern. The event was anchored on Krones’ part by Roland Sommer, the head of GSCM, who also concluded the day by outlining what to expect in future.

And what sort of feedback did you get from the participants? Is there some core statement from the event that stayed with you?

Both the internal and external participants were extremely appreciative of the high degree of expertise encountered – not only on a substantive level but also in terms of the great applicability of the input given. What I personally find extremely gratifying is that this event has actually enabled us to get our hands on some new knowledge for our company. And – needless to say – we at Krones are also proud of being able to confirm that 3D printing has really touched down on our shopfloor – it’s not just any old hype that we’re giving a try. No, what’s involved here is actually series production. As far as core statements are concerned, there were a whole lot of them for me. Starting to cite these here would take us too far. What really stuck in my memory, however, is: the example of additive manufacturing quite vividly shows just how production is able to influence and indeed progress innovation. So it’s all the more important for representatives of the shopfloor and R&D to get together round a table regularly. Another thing that repeatedly emerged in many of the presentations was this: in the future, too, we shall be needing development engineers and designers who have plenty of experience and some clever ideas – the right components do not come into being all by themselves, not even with generative manufacturing.