Data for the Cloud

Industrie 4.0 at thyssenkrupp in Schönebeck 

Sascha Singer points to the tiny laser marking on a ball nut. The marking involves a Data Matrix code – it stands for a new industrial age known as Industry 4.0.

“The code gives every part an identity, a mixture of CV and ID card. In addition to serial numbers and customer numbers it includes all information regarding the manufacturing process. With every machine which ball nuts, but also all other components go through, it is individually registered. So the plant always knows whether the product has the right status, may be utilised or whether a process step is missing”, explains the managing director of the steering plant from ThyssenKrupp Presta Schönebeck GmbH, located in the north of Saxony-Anhalt.

At the site, thyssenkrupp has a workforce of 750 employees and produces steering components which are preassembled for virtually all major manufacturers in the international automotive industry. After that the components are sent to other thyssenkrupp plants in Germany, China, Mexico and France, where they are assembled into complete steering systems. The automotive industry and its suppliers have recognised the opportunities of digitalised production at an early stage: stronger networking, altered value-added processes as well as new supply relationships and business models.

The plant in Schönebeck is among three sites at which thyssenkrupp AG is testing a so-called “big data” analysis by means of pilot plants on a cross-plant basis. Several hundred measurement data such has pressing forces, dimensions or acoustic data from production and assembly of steering systems are recorded in real time and stored in a cloud. Specialised software sorts and analyses the huge volume of data from which conclusions are drawn with regard to the interaction and the effects of various process steps. “As a result, our production is much more efficient and flexible. Moreover, errors can be immediately detected and corrected. The likelihood that defective products leave the plant is virtually zero”, says managing director Singer with a sense of pride. The 36-year-old worked eight years for thyssenkrupp AG in Shanghai, before he took over the operations in Schönebeck in 2014.

The industrial engineer views predictions that digitalisation will destroy jobs on a grand scale with scepticism. “I am more confident here. There will undoubtedly be shifts among the fields of work. In some areas jobs will disappear, whereas entirely new jobs will emerge in other areas. In 1984, on the day of the first e-mail in Germany, who would have anticipated that 300,000 people would be working in the German digital economy today? We should endeavour towards a more sober view regarding the subject of digitalisation”, says the native-born Austrian Sascha Singer. “Wherever data will be compiled on a large-scale basis, the subject of IT security will logically play a pivotal role. New jobs will definitely emerge in this field.”

It is certain that higher demands on the qualification of employees will be imposed in the course of digitalisation. That is why a solid promotion of young talent is indispensable. A new apprenticeship workshop, in which about 36 young people will be trained every year, was first put into operation at the plant in Schönebeck in the summer of 2015. ThyssenKrupp Presta Schönebeck GmbH is also working together on a project-related basis with students and professors from Otto-von-Guericke University Magdeburg.

The pilot plant in Schönebeck is only one of many steps towards digitalisation for thyssenkrupp AG. The corporate group is currently pointing the way ahead for a comprehensive digitalisation of all production processes. The backbone for this is a harmonised and highly efficient IT infrastructure with separate data processing centres. Collecting, storing and processing large volumes of data in all value-added steps are inconceivable without standardised systems.

“The industryx is in the early stages of a radical change. Companies which do not adjust to this fundamental change in structure squander their future viability. That is why the top priority is to question capabilities, enhance digital maturity and to recognise opportunities as well as to develop and implement them as quickly as possible, because the speed of this development is enormous”, says Sascha Singer.

In addition to Schönebeck, thyssenkrupp AG also operates a plant in Ilsenburg in the Harz region of Saxony-Anhalt, in which about 900 employees produce engine components. At this production site the physical world of things also merges with data networks to form a cyber-physical system.