Robotics and automation enable optimal process planning
With the digital project KONAP and the support of artificial intelligence, Krone ensures even more reliable production and even higher quality. In future, the Profi Liner can be delivered within one week of ordering.
he rear doors of a Krone trailer are manufactured by robots to fit exactly and after sheet metal has been rolled off the coil and cut to size, intelligent machines join the components together and weld them – precisely, safely and quickly. “No human intervention is required here, and we thus achieve an extremely low error rate and extremely high quality for the customer,” says Uwe Sasse, Krone Managing Director. The robots enable absolutely reliable and optimum plannable production and thus fully comply with the development process that Krone is facing: We are intensively pushing ahead with automation and robotics in order not only to remain fit for the future, but also to be able to use the many advantages which these technologies already bring. “We have put all our previous processes to the test and transferred them to new processes and working methods such as modular design,” says Uwe Sasse, describing this extensive development. “This enables us to offer our customers our products more quickly – with even higher quality and at economical, marketable prices.”
PROFI LINER FURTHER DEVELOPED IN MODULAR STRUCTURE
The Profi Liner from Krone, for example, has already been fully adapted to this change: “We have further developed it in a modular structure, in which the modules can each be manufactured automatically for the most part,” explains Uwe Sasse. “A welded assembly produced automatically always has a consistently high level of quality and is not dependent on factors such as human error that can happen, if welding is done by hand.” But not only the joints, spots and seams from robot hands are of reliable quality, also the processing of the assemblies and their dimensionally-accurate joining with the aid of artificial intelligence works excellently – and with a consistently high level of safety. A chassis consists of sub-modules such as the neck assembly, the middle module and the side module; at Krone, they are all designed to be combined with each other. “This reduces the variance in the modules”, says Sasse. “We use few standard modules, but they can be freely combined with each other in a modular system. All in all, this results in a high degree of variance for the customer”. Meanwhile, the modules have been designed in terms of size and construction in such a way that robots can grip and weld them optimally and thus connect them to each other.
“We achieve an extremely low error rate and extremely high quality for the customer.”
Uwe Sasse, Managing Director Construction and Development
DATA WORLD COMPLETELY ADAPTED TO NEW PROCESSES
Krone has already created the requirements for the smooth running of this process over the past three years: “We have completely adapted our data world to this. As it was clear to us that for intensive automation we needed consistent, unambiguous data that was not redundant”. The result is called KONAP – configuration management and order processing. The large number of possible variants in which a vehicle can now be assembled has already been completely thought through here: every possible combination is planned in advance. All the data required for the combinations is stored in the system. “Now, if a customer orders a vehicle, we don’t have to generate the required components first, but have direct access to them,” explains Uwe Sasse. “This virtually eliminates errors in technical order processing, which in turn leads to high reliability and quality. Once the product has been thought through, the data is created for all variants and their combinability, and we can access it from all the planning tools and machines we use”.
Another benefit: The variants are also all validated – so it is guaranteed that all components and groups work together. This means that completely new products are no longer created, even if of course individual customer wishes can always be met. The Profi Liner has already been successfully produced in this way for more than three years. KONAP will start at the beginning of July.
WELL THOUGHT-OUT PRODUCT PORTFOLIO ENSURES QUALITY AND COMPATIBILITY
Lorenz Weiss, Division Manager Construction and Development at Krone, explains what the KONAP project means for the company, as well as for employees and customers.
Mr Weiss, what does KONAP stand for? It consists of two parts: Configuration Management and Order Processing. The configuration management describes all our processes that we want to handle independently of orders – thanks to this system – and is the data basis for our new order handling process. It is an end-to-end process, from the first contact between our sales department and the customer, from order to delivery. Similar to what we know from the automotive industry, a vehicle is digitally configured when it is ordered and then produced directly in the factory.
What does implementing this process mean for Krone? It is one of the biggest changes we have implemented in recent years. So far we have developed our products on the basis of orders. Now we want to act as a series producer and “think ahead”. That’s why we introduced a modular structure into our products and can now make full use of this method. This also enables us to react faster to changes in the market.
How will customers feel about this? The system’s reliable data will ensure that the vehicles ordered will be ready for collection much more quickly. The planned product portfolio ensures quality and compatibility. The customer can still get very individual trailers – we can still produce batch size 1, but just from a modular system.
Many departments were involved in the process. How did the employees implement the project? For all of us KONAP means a strong cultural change. Above all, we had to create very close cooperation between product management, development and sales. After all, the modular system must of course be precisely tailored to the requirements of the market. Many employees therefore had to move out of their previous comfort zone and give up “silo-thinking”. In addition, we worked on the project for three years, so we all had to be persistent. Once again, it has been shown that we at Krone can rely on a dynamic team in which younger and older, more experienced employees support each other. Personally, I appreciate that very much: We get the opportunity to break new ground, we can make a lot of progress and all of us can develop further.
START PRODUCTION AT THE PUSH OF A BUTTON
Further development of the Profi Liner was also linked to an ambitious goal right from the start: the “One Week Trailer”. In the past, around four to six weeks passed between the receipt of an order and delivery. Many process steps, from the preparation of the purchase contract to any queries that might arise regarding the specification and procurement of parts, right up to construction, took a great deal of time. “Thanks to KONAP and the automation in the production of the Profi Liner, the vehicle already exists in the data world and we can start its production at the push of a button,” says Sasse. “We only have to concentrate on the pure procurement of the components to produce the vehicle. At the same time, thanks to our modular system, we can keep the parts permanently in stock and use them flexibly”. This enables the company to reduce the time from receipt of order to delivery to just a few days – and allows customers to survive in an increasingly competitive environment. If a customer applies for a large transport order that has to be fulfilled at short notice, Krone can provide effective support and quickly provide the necessary vehicle technology.