Innovation With Courage
manufacturingtechnologyinsights

Innovation With Courage

By Helmut Oehring, Executive Vice President, Asteelflash

Helmut Oehring, Executive Vice President, Asteelflash

1. In light of your experience, what are the trends and challenges you’ve witnessed happening concerning the Smart Factory landscape?

The amount of data we are collecting from our shop floor equipment is growing much faster and is more precious than anticipated. It’s critical to building a team with the vision to be able to harness the value out of our data to answer questions that we haven’t even asked yet. Additionally, new technologies in RPA, cobots and machine learning are coming at us so quickly that we will need to develop new techniques to rapidly “try and fail” so that we can shift through the noise and pinpoint the solutions that bring us the most value. It is hard to learn about these technologies fast enough, so it’s critical to creating a “learning culture” related to Smart Factory solutions.

2. Could you talk about your approach to identifying the right partnership providers from the lot?

The basic prerequisites that I include in my vendor selections include

a) solid vision for technologies & solutions,

b) track record of successful delivery through early adopters,

c) good experience in my industry and

d) substantial value returned to be related to the costs.

However, the real differentiator for me is a partner that stands by me through the struggles that nearly always happen during implementation within my company. I need a partner that is willing to share the risk with me as we consider the new technologies in the Smart Factory landscape.

"The equipment that will permeate through our manufacturing shop floors will become smarter and filled with more data"

3. Could you elaborate on some exciting and impactful project/initiatives that you’re currently overseeing?

Leveraging cobots to create efficiency gains while improving quality is a crucial initiative for our manufacturing locations in high-cost regions. We use cobots in assembly and testing operation in our manufacturing process, and they have proven to be very reliable.

Our Big Data initiatives are combining information from shop floor equipment with enterprise data to provide insights that have never been seen before within our company. These insights are adding a dimension to our culture to “ask the next question.” These insights allow us to see innovative ways to create lean manufacturing processes.

We have implemented a proof of concept to apply Machine Learning to our quoting process. We can automatically absorb much of the technical data in bids from customers. The AI engine then scrubs typically messy information using our business processes and scours the web to produce the bulk of a quote response. This is replacing very tedious manual efforts in a fraction of the time.

We are laying out plans now for using warehouse delivery robots to and from “smart shelves”. This will improve the accuracy and efficiency of picking inventory at lower costs.

4. What are some of the points of discussion that go on in your leadership panel? What are the strategic points that you go by to steer the company forward?

Coming up with the new idea and having the guts to carry it through are some of the guiding principles when we consider our journey to implementing the Smart Factory. We emphasize these points in addition to the more traditional considerations of Return on Investment and Strategic Customer Alignment. Many of the solutions we manufacture for our customers are “state of the art” launching new products in their markets. Our Executive Team frequently wrestles with the challenges to lead our customers on this cycle of innovation.

5. Can you draw an analogy between your personality traits, hobbies, and how they reflect on your leadership strategy?

I believe taking calculated risks to achieve something new or exciting in the face of adventure shapes my leadership style. Skiing requires me to make quick decisions while facing varied and challenging conditions at speed. Being comfortable in new, unusual settings working under constraints of my SCUBA equipment requires mental toughness. Finally, learning to appreciate and value the diversity of the people around me during international travel provides me a humbling perspective.

6. How do you see the evolution of the Smart Factory space a few years from now about some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

The equipment that will permeate through our manufacturing shop floors will become smarter and filled with more data. We will connect this new world and bring insights that allow us to see a digital twin of the manufacturing process. Our employees will nearly all become information workers, leaving behind most of the mundane tasks to robots and other automation. AI/Machine Learning will reduce the noise and variability of demand & supply signals between companies across the supply chain. We will incorporate these Smart Factory technologies into the products we manufacturer, and we will be able to provide services along with the products.

7. What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?

Inspire a sense of adventure to embrace Smart Factory solutions that could paint a new picture of how our work gets done.

Helmut Oehring  

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