Lessons from VW's Production Planning Digitization

Dimitrios Matsoulis

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Large scale companies, like any company, will eventually reach a point where they're struggling to improve and grow. As this article demonstrates, digitizing your operation is one surefire way to bypass this hurdle. Polished products at such variety, scale and complexity do not come without a streamlined design and manufacturing planning process -- and that's true whether you're VW or a 30-person local operation.



VW's Approach in Selecting a Software Vendor


VW introduced new software in the early 2000s with three main requirements that we think every manufacturer should keep in mind when looking to digitize: (1) maximize value of operating equipment, (2) ensure once-only drafting of designs that are then used across manufacturing lines & facilities, and (3) inclusion of manufacturing considerations in the product design stage, all without an increase of manpower.  Every firm is different, but when selecting to digitize, make sure you have your goals set up front.  For every manufacturer, digitization should be driven by certain needs or goals vs. just trying out the latest software.



Starting Small


So how was management convinced that their three goals would be met when implementing the new production planning software? They tested it on a project called "Laser-Gross-Geo" that involved the replacement of a car body roof rail for rack attachment by a direct connection between roof and side panel. The new software allowed for easy information exchange between design and manufacturing teams and led to a very successful welding line reorganization within a very tight time schedule. Management gave the formal go-ahead as it was convinced of the importance of enhanced planning capabilities and the transformational power of digital solutions.



VW Results from the Implementation


The project was ground-breaking for the following reasons:


- The same software (Siemens PLM Tecnomatix) is now used across group brands all over the world, offering instant access to its database and tools.


- The elimination of paperwork and bureaucracy lead to increased transparency within the company.


- Revision loops are easy to implement and lead to much needed operational improvements.


- No increase in staff was required; in fact the same number of people are now able to do higher quality work that has a great organizational impact across the company.


- The successful system was also introduced across VW's design and manufacturing planning activities.



Takeaway Lessons


We can use the above example to extract useful conclusions for any operation. First of all, product design must incorporate production planning and the whole process must be handled with tight time management and clear targets all the way to product release. It's clear that working from a single data repository offers tremendous advantages in terms of speed and efficiency. Allowing the technical team to openly access design and manufacturing information is key to streamlining operations, increasing flexibility, building custom versions and expanding market propositions.



Successful completion of a pilot demo project is all that is required to convince management of the technical and financial benefits. Many times companies of all sizes are impeded in their growth by data management difficulties, but this just shows how managing the design and build stage with an efficient digital approach is a critical foundation for growth and portfolio expansion.



In your next digitization project, start with identifying key goals or needs that your organization has. Then set those needs as requirements and start with a small demo project. If you have success, then obtaining larger more dramatic results company wide should only be a few steps away.