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„Structuring first, then digitalization“

Interview with Professor Wolfgang Boos

Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik are not being left behind. They are implementing digital transformation on an ongoing basis and are consistently exploiting existing optimization potential. One example of this is the current research project with the Aachen Toolmaking Academy, which aims to deliver an even more efficient planning system for toolmaking at Bihler. In this interview, Professor Wolfgang Boos sheds light on the current project.

b on top: Where are you starting from in respect of internal toolmaking at Bihler, and what are the primary objectives? What is the relevance of the project?

Professor Wolfgang Boos: The internal tool shop at Otto Bihler Maschinenfabrik produces high-precision tools and assemblies for the production of stamped and bended parts. In addition, it also repairs tools and manufactures spare parts. The wide range of jobs raises a number of challenges in the planning and management of orders as a result of the different deadlines. The objective of the project is to improve the planning and control system, in particular with regard to the targets of adherence to schedules, throughput time and transparency. Nowadays, these are the top priorities, not least in view of the increasing demand for ever smaller quantities that have to be produced ever faster. They are more important than the actual machine utilization, which can be reduced without economic loss. Digitalization of such processes also creates the transparency required by the Industry 4.0 philosophy. The analysis and the associated measures then build on this transparency.

b on top: What approaches will be adopted? Where, in general, are the challenges in projects such as this?

Professor Wolfgang Boos: The first step is to analyze the typical path of an order through the entire company. We document all the activities of the staff involved and the tools they use, and in the  meetings that follow, the first discrepancies and inefficiencies become apparent. In a second phase, we develop a target concept based on the potential for optimization in these areas. This consists of rough planning, detailed planning and control including the necessary tools and documents as well as clear responsibilities. We involve all affected parties right from the start in order to be able to build on a high level of acceptance of the new planning logic at a later date. This is essential for the final implementation phase, which we accompany throughout. Our role here is akin to that of a controller, but we also help with specific questions regarding the implementation of measures.

b on top: Where are Bihler’s strengths, where is there potential for optimization? What specific measures have been implemented so far?

Professor Wolfgang Boos: The high level of competence of the employees and the ability to find functioning solutions quickly are certainly among the great strengths of the company. The wide network of strong partner, which has been built up over many years and is essentially available at any time, is also a major advantage that makes a decisive contribution to Bihler’s capabilities and responsiveness. On the other hand – and this is typical of manufacturing companies – it would be possible to optimize the timing of material procurement, for example. After all, tool material is often ordered even though design is not yet completed, for instance. The aim is to reduce throughput time, but this often creates additional work because, for example, the material is not suitable. Specifically, we have, for instance, introduced the standardization of incoming inquiries, especially very urgent ones. All the necessary information for this, including pricing, is now available in a uniform manner. This may seem trivial at first, but it is relevant in view of the fact that such inquiries recur several times a week. The sum of all such measures improves the planning logic and the way in which work content is structured in the company. Digitalization of these processes will then lend a further boost to efficiency and open up new possibilities in the age of Industry 4.0.

Professor Wolfgang Boos, born in Gummersbach in 1975, trained as a toolmaker and then studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen University. In 2008 he received his doctorate for his thesis “Methodology for the design and evaluation of modular tools”. Since 2010, he has been Chief Executive Engineer at the Department of Production Engineering and teaches the Master’s degree course “Corporate Management & Change” at RWTH Aachen University. Wolfgang Boos has also been CEO of WBA Aachener Werkzeugbau Akademie GmbH since 2010. The activities of the WBA are centered around customer-oriented industrial consulting, appropriate further education as well as innovative research and development in their own demonstration tool shop.


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