Monsoon floods in Asia paralyse the production of hard drives for a short space of time. Ash clouds of a volcano make replenishments for the production a nail-biting event for automobile manufacturers. Striking workers in South Africa have similar effects with their actions. Even protracted customs checks can interrupt the supply chains. Such scenarios are part of everyday life in this increasingly global world. Sluggish production processes have become a matter for research in order to make logistics problems easier to overcome.
Solutions can be found with the help of specialists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg. In his dissertation, Dr. Tobias Reggelin has developed mesoscopic simulation models. They are based on levels of abstraction, which allow the analysis of logistical flow systems considerably more rapidly than at the moment.
Reggelin has been awarded a prize for his dissertation in the meantime. This year, he received the DHL Innovation Award from Deutsche Post DHL, which was awarded for the fourth time. With this prize, the company acknowledged the most innovative upcoming scientist in the state. The 34 year old laughs with satisfaction about this recognition. Years of research have paid off for him several times all at once. With his new simulation tool, processes in logistical flows can be visualised in such a way that the models are not just suited for the planning of such procedures. They also prove their versatile options in the real operating phase, such as during the control of logistical procedures. These simulation models then form the basis for efficient supply chains and entire logistical processes.
The basic idea of this mesoscopic approach is in the visualisation of logistical flow processes on a condensed level. This makes it possible to make and calculate models more quickly. This occurs with an approach, which incorporated entire quantities of goods or materials of a process in the investigations, rather than individual elements. Not every detail matters, instead it is the flow of goods itself. The advantage of this application in comparison with the classic procedure is that the simulation occurs at the same time as the real process, meaning it can be immediately implemented in practice. In doing so, the latest information is always available for use, which guarantees an up-to-date simulation. In this way, something like an early warning system is ultimately developed, which can react to a huge range of faults or problems. This increases the effectiveness and flexibility of the process monitoring. Ultimately, users have the option of being able to better handle complex production procedures, for example.
Projects like this one by Dr. Reggelin have traditionally characterised the Magdeburg-based IFF, which generates part of its research funding through assignments from the industry. The award winner is a research assistant both at the Fraunhofer Institute and at the Department of Logistical Systems at Otto-von-Guericke-Universität Magdeburg. The spatial proximity of the two facilities makes such links of activities easier. As the PhD supervisor of the award winner, institute manager Professor Michael Schenk is especially pleased about the success. “The awarding of such an important international prize proves that we do good work in Magdeburg. The work of Dr. Reggelin makes it easier for us to understand complex, international transport procedures, for example. This means that in the future companies must no longer only react to the many, often negative indicators. Instead, it allows the different partners of such complicated networks to react more actively and design the logistical processes optimally. This is the path to intelligent logistics,” says Schenk.
Reggelin is not resting on his laurels for a second. The scientist is working in Russia at the moment. He is supporting projects from his institute on-site. A Moscow-based industrial company with far-reaching cooperation and supply relationships extending as far as Asia and Europe wants to optimise its material flows and adjust to possible logistical problems or deviations in sales. With a planned growth rate of 30 percent a year, such a strategy is ultimately understandable. “The region has long and hard winters. Problems with customs can occur, just like delays in transportation,” says the Magdeburg-based scientist. The special software of the Fraunhofer specialists is now being adapted and trialled for this task. With the tool, the different information about production and delivery, i.e. the entire logistics process, can be collected and evaluated. As a consequence, there is the option of outsourcing production stages, for example, or ordering materials from other production sites or warehouses. In this way, disruptions can be recognised early on and defensive measures can be introduced.
Author/Photo: Klaus-Peter Voigt
Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF
ph: +49 391 4090259