A total of 4,500 employees work at the Airbus premises next to Bremen airport. The vast site also houses the space division of Airbus Defence and Space and their subsidiary supplier Premium Aerotec.
Even from the office of site manager Dr André Walter, it’s difficult to judge the sheer scale of the work that takes place here. For many companies, the future of digital manufacturing is just as difficult to predict. Yet for Walter, the course is perfectly clear – only the businesses that get ready for digitalisation today can be successful in the future.
Mr. Walter, what is the significance of digitalisation at Airbus?
Walter: For us, it’s not about implementing digital technologies for their own sake. Our manufacturing processes at Airbus already yield a wealth of data. The main question is whether we are making comprehensive use of this data at the moment. And are we using it in a networked fashion? With Industry 4.0 you have to ask yourself: “Is there a smart way of linking my data to improve the manufacturing process?” And this in turn only makes sense if the processes behind it are integrated as well. In our view, Industry 4.0, or digitalisation, means making work easier for employees and increasing efficiency.
What specific measures is the Airbus site in Bremen taking to increase production efficiency and reduce costs through digitalisation?
We have introduced a mixed model assembly line for wing manufacturing, after asking ourselves what would be the best way to manufacture wings for both the A330 and A350 on the same production line. Using this kind of manufacturing process, both sets of wings go through the same production chain. This can lead to significant organisational challenges, particularly with regard to components from different generations of products – the A350 was introduced only very recently, whereas the A330 has already been on the market for quite some time. We can only make this work if we are able to digitally monitor the manufacturing process. Low production cycle times place different kinds of demands on a digital factory than high production quantities – as is the case in the automotive industry, for example, where small, repetitive movements can be more easily carried out by robots.
How does Airbus approach this challenge?
Inevitably, we have to create synergies between man and machine. That’s why we’re looking into cobots – robots that work with and alongside human employees, both sharing the same workspace. Many of our areas require elaborate procedures that a robot would never be able to carry out alone. The kind of traditional assembly line production that you see in the automotive industry is virtually impossible for us.
How definite are the plans to introduce cobots?
We’re still in the trial phase. We aren’t using any at our Bremen site yet, but we are working closely with research institutes in Bremen to look at how they could be introduced. I don’t like the idea of immediately introducing new technologies to the site without thoroughly examining their benefits first. If we bring a new device into the factory and the employees don’t have the first clue what to do with it, then it won’t be of much help to us.
One technological development that demonstrates Airbus’ pioneering spirit is the use of Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM). This 3D printing technique is used to create workpieces out of metal powder, and some of the first components it has produced are already in the air. What potential does Airbus see in this technology?
We are very interested in the technological applications of ALM. It enables you to quickly manufacture workpieces that are needed in small quantities – if you find that an individual component is missing during assembly, for example. ALM also provides a completely new way of designing components with great optimisation potential. How close is Airbus to implementing 3D printing in everyday operations? At the moment, 3D printing is only worthwhile when it comes to producing special parts. The technology would have to be more firmly established, the machines much faster and the powder significantly cheaper.
You’ve mentioned mixed model lines, cobots and 3D printing. Can you tell us about the innovation process that has led to these developments at Airbus?
Our manufacturing engineering unit, which acts an interface between development and production, has prepared us for the industrialisation of these technologies. The unit works closely with our information technology services, collaborating intensively on matters of automation and digitalisation. We also launched the ALM plateau* in Bremen in October 2015, where we are working with other companies to examine the various ways of using 3D printing technology. We are also working with Bremen-based partners such as the University of Bremen, the University of Applied Sciences, Jacobs University and other establishments in the area.
*Airbus uses the term ‘plateau’ to refer to a collaborative workspace for teams comprising members of multiple departments.
Airbus works closely with its partners here in Bremen. How well placed is the area with regard to new manufacturing technologies and digital, networked factories?
There are many outstanding research institutes and universities here, whose expertise we have to draw upon if we wish to bring Bremen’s network even further into the digital age. We can already see a community gradually developing as a result of this. Some studies say that up to half of all jobs could ultimately disappear as a result of digitalisation.
How realistic are these concerns?
Employees can be mistrustful of new technologies. However, we believe that the adoption of digital technologies empowers workers, enabling them to carry out their tasks better and more easily, more productively, and more ergonomically. It’s a fully integrated approach that can only be implemented when everyone is on board. Our first priority is to ensure that each individual worker is trained in line with the new working requirements. Businesses that address the issue of digitalisation head on can even expect to create more jobs – which means we have to start thinking now about how to secure the specialists we will need.
Which strategies does Airbus use to attract highly qualified specialists on a long-term basis?
Besides training the employees we already have, we have to ensure that the topic of digitalisation is explored in universities and in apprenticeships. Yet it’s always important to think about how we can make new technologies more user-friendly as well. Today we all use smartphones – why shouldn’t we be able to control a robot through an app as well? We have to react quicker, continually taking on board new developments and adapting accordingly. We are already talking to universities about such matters, and Bremen’s diverse range of higher education institutions offers the ideal opportunity for this.
Mr. Walter thank you for the interview.
You can find out more about the Bremen aerospace cluster from Dr Barbara Cembella, cluster manager for the space sector, T +49 (0)421 9600 340, email@example.com.
DIGILAB Brennerei 4.0 supports companies on their digitalisation journey with free and independent services. Getting started has never been easier.
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From initial idea to successful move. Andreas Gerber, who heads up the international relocation team at Bremeninvest, knows what international companies need to do to set up a business in Bremen. Here he tells us about the most important steps on the ...
BLG LOGISTICS GROUP AG & Co. KG’s AutoTerminal in Bremerhaven is a record-breaking automotive hub. Every year, the terminal handles some 2.3 million vehicles. But that’s not all.
Going it alone is rarely an easy option. Co-working enables entrepreneurs to work in a shared space and experience the benefits and synergies that come with this. There are nine co-working spaces in Bremen – which one is right for you?
Permits and authorisations, a mountain of applications and a language barrier too. These are just some of the difficulties you face when starting a business abroad. Luckily, an advice centre opened in Bremen in early 2015 that can help you through the jungle: Bremeninvest’s welcome service.
Geographical distance and cultural differences make it hard to relocate or start up a company in another country. Luckily, help is at hand from the team at the World Trade Center (WTC) in Bremen. They'll do all they can to make your international business a success.
In December 2016 ministers from the European Space Agency (ESA) member states met to determine the roadmap for the European space sector for the years ahead. Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and Bremen submitted joint recommendations. In the following interview Dr Peter Vits, Bremen's State Coordinator for the Space Sector, talks about Bremen's strengths and opportunities.
The sky is not the limit, at least not in Bremen. All parts of the aerospace sector are represented in the city, from R&D to production. Aeroplane wings, Ariane rockets and Galileo satellites – Bremen is one of the leading locations in the international aerospace industry. Here are five factors behind Bremen’s story of success.
In 2015 Bremen won the right to host the International Astronautical Congress for the second time, after having successfully held the event in 2003. Its bid was the result of a collaboration between the Bremen regional government and Bremen’s space industry and space research sector. Event partners include the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the German Aerospace Centre.
The Bremen region has long been a pioneer in electric mobility and is now set to enjoy further success after Mercedes-Benz and Borgward announced that they will be making electric vehicles in the city.
Bremen knows how to make cars: the Mercedes-Benz plant by the Weser river has been in operation for almost 40 years, is the focal point of the city’s automotive industry and automotive clusters, and is now the company’s biggest global facility in terms of vehicle production numbers. Reason enough for an ever-growing number of suppliers and logistics firms to base themselves in Bremen.
Sometimes you have to learn from other people's mistakes and trust your instincts. That is what Muhammad-Farhan Aslam believed when he took over his father's business. Not only did he change the business model, but he also shelved his own plans to move to England. Instead he stayed in Bremen. And it turned out to be one of many good decisions that he made.
For 30 years, the Cargo Distribution Centre in Bremen has delivered excellence – as an investment location and a logistics hub. Today more than 150 companies employing approximately 8,000 people are based at the site. It offers direct links to the ports, the autobahn and has a close proximity to Bremen City Airport.
Language barriers, unfamiliar legal and fiscal systems, qualifications that need to be recognised. There are many additional hurdles that entrepreneurs have to overcome when setting up a new branch or a new company in a different country. Bremeninvest is committed to offering you advice and support from the outset.
You might expect a Bremen-based company specialising in innovative instruments and implants for spinal surgery to be located at the Technology Park. But you'd be wrong. NuVasive Germany GmbH has its head office at the heart of the city centre next to Wallanlagen Park. Now employing a team of 44 people, the company generates annual revenue of more than €10 million – a figure that looks set to rise.