Companies see great potential in the digitizing of logistics processes. The buzzwords are "Smart Factory" and "Connected Supply Chain": The physical and digital worlds are merging and we can see it when, for example, computer chips are installed in components. The information stored on the chip transforms the component into an "intelligent workpiece" which knows to what extent it has already been processed and where it currently is in the process. It can communicate with surrounding machines to determine exactly when a particular production process is going to be performed on it.
As a result, production and transport processes are time-optimized and the need for storage space goes down, lowering costs in the process. This, in turn, makes it possible to accommodate individual customer requests because from then on, smaller production quantities right down to batch size 1 can also be produced profitably. Companies that deal this way with the costs and deadline pressures of global competition appear to be ready to handle the future.
80 percent of all industrial companies hope to have their supply chains digitized by 2020, according to a survey of 235 German industrial companies conducted jointly by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Strategy&. Only one quarter has achieved that goal to date. Nevertheless, in many cases, the companies could go even one step further than to simply digitally optimize their internal processes. A look at the automotive industry is revealing: According to CIO magazine, 250 different system suppliers are involved in the production of a 7 Series BMW. 78 percent of the added value for cars is supposedly already provided by the suppliers, with only 22 percent being done by the manufacturers themselves. To use the potential of digitization to the best advantage, the information and material flows between dealers, manufacturers and suppliers must also be digitally optimized.
The next logical step would be to connect the digitized supply chains across these companies. The prerequisite for this: the direct exchange of all information between the IT systems of everyone involved. But in order for this to work, all the interfaces would have to operate on the same standards and be able to communicate with one another. And that is a real challenge.
The Research Institute for Rationalization (FIR) at RWTH Aachen University showed what the optimum information flow could look like at CeBIT 2012. This year, FIR is presenting its successor, the Logistics Demonstrator 2.0, in Hall 5. Instead of concentrating on information flow, the new model focuses on material flow: The Logistics Demonstrator 2.0 is a "rolling ball machine" which visualizes automated production processes with the help of state-of-the-art IT and sensor technology. There are no longer any interface problems.