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Digital Manufacturing Platform Creation To Make Smart Manufacturing a Reality

ZF, Microsoft and PwC Germany will jointly transform processes at the ZF Diepholz plant in northern Germany and use the insights ZF wide. The project enables ZF to reduce conversion costs, improve inventory, performance and quality, and to make their workforce more efficient. As all companies are member of the Open Manufacturing Platform other customers in the automotive industry will also benefit from ZF’s improvements gained.

Digital transformation is reinventing companies and their factories. In manufacturing, it requires the seamless integration of both information and operations technology. PwC Germany, part of one of the world’s leading professional service firm networks, Microsoft and ZF, as two of the world’s leading technology companies, combine their strengths and experience to translate complex technical information into valuable business insights. The ZF Diepholz plant in northern Germany was selected for a pilot project where ZF, and PwC Germany will transform processes and workflows using Microsoft Azure to build the future Digital Manufacturing Platform (DMP) of ZF.

Digital Solutions Make Manufacturing More Flexible and More Efficient

“The world is changing, and so is manufacturing,” says Gabriel González-Alonso, Head of ZF Corporate Production Management. “In these very turbulent times, it was especially important to us that we implement new digital solutions that enable our manufacturing to achieve higher flexibility and efficiency.” This is nothing less than a paradigm shift for ZF. In the past, software was introduced into each plant one by one and installed on discrete servers. This has evolved into the creation of a platform in the cloud, connecting ZF’s plants to said platform and rolling out the functionalities to the plant via Microsoft Azure. This horizontal, cross-plant integration with easy scalability makes ZF independent of its local infrastructure.”

“To further digitize the ZF Diepholz plant, we will implement a transformation program with several additional use cases, all of which will be integrated into an end-to-end Smart Factory Transformation for ZF,” explains Michael Bruns, Partner Digital Operations at PwC Germany. Selected cases will aim at creating transparency of production performance from the plant as a whole all the way down to machine level. Others will focus on the traceability of production flows, analysis and prediction of production, and quality outcomes. A third set of used cases aims at enhancing maintenance operations through machine monitoring and fault prediction.

To master these tasks, ZF and PwC Germany will use Microsoft AI to improve planning efficiencies and effectiveness, improve maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) inventory and present new insights to improve production performance. “With our approach, we will help ZF to reduce conversion costs, improve inventory, performance, and quality, and to make its workforce more efficient,” outlines Reinhard Geissbauer, Global Head of Industry 4.0 and Digital Operations at PwC Germany.

A Win-Win-Win Situation

Microsoft, which provides the software solutions for PwC Germany’s approach, sees this project as relevant for the digital strategy for all automotive suppliers like ZF. “Our aim is to make this initiative not only a best practice for success at ZF, but also an industry-wide inspiration to other automotive customers endeavoring on their own digitalization projects. We see strong interest across the manufacturing sector globally to leverage digital technologies to drive quality as well as process optimization, and we’re excited for this project to serve as a true benchmark.” says Marianne Janik, Area Vice President, Microsoft Germany. By combining its business and process expertise, technology insights, and AI capabilities, the companies integrate all aspects of how to digitize a factory from a single source.

With Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0 Becomes Reality

The partners will come together to bring fully-networked plants to the next level. Smart factories not only work quickly and reliably, but they also offer a high degree of adaptability for rapid design changes. This leads to more engaged employees, increased business velocity, and stronger growth margins.

Not only will other ZF plants benefit from the insights gained from digitizing the Diepholz plant and the capabilities of the DMP, but other organizations may benefit as well. Other organizations can thus get a proven solution which improves manufacturing reference models, effectively reduces maintenance costs, predicts failures and optimizes material availability – from planning through execution.

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