ZF selects Microsoft and PwC Germany as strategic partners to build its digital manufacturing platform

by Autocar Pro News Desk , 14 Jan 2021

German Tier 1 supplier ZF has partnered Microsoft and PwC Germany to jointly transform processes at the ZF Diepholz plant in northern Germany and use the insights worldwide. The project will enable ZF to reduce conversion costs, improve inventory, performance and quality, and to make its workforce more efficient.

ZF says as all companies are members of the Open Manufacturing Platform other customers in the automotive industry will also benefit from ZF’s improvements gained in Diepholz.

Digital transformation is reinventing companies and their factories. In manufacturing, it requires the seamless integration of both information and operations technology. PwC Germany, part of one of the world’s leading professional service firm networks, Microsoft and ZF, as two of the world’s leading technology companies, will combine their strengths and experience to translate complex technical information into valuable business insights. The ZF Diepholz plant in northern Germany was selected for a pilot project where ZF, and PwC Germany will transform processes and workflows using Microsoft Azure to build the future Digital Manufacturing Platform (DMP) of ZF.

Efficient and flexible manufacturing processes
Gabriel Gonzales-Alonso, head of ZF Corporate Production Management said: “The world is changing, and so is manufacturing. In these very turbulent times, it was especially important to us that we implement new digital solutions that enable our manufacturing to achieve higher flexibility and efficiency.”

The Tier 1 company says this is nothing less than a paradigm shift for it. In the past, software was introduced into each plant one by one and installed on discrete servers. This has evolved into the creation of a platform in the cloud, connecting ZF’s plants to said platform and rolling out the functionalities to the plant via Microsoft Azure.  This horizontal, cross-plant integration with easy scalability makes ZF independent of its local infrastructure.

Michael Bruns, partner digital operations, PwC Germany said: “To further digitise the ZF Diepholz plant, we will implement a transformation program with several additional use cases, all of which will be integrated into an end-to-end Smart Factory Transformation for ZF.”

The selected cases will aim at creating transparency of production performance from the plant as a whole all the way down to machine level. Others will focus on the traceability of production flows, analysis and prediction of production, and quality outcomes. A third set of used cases aims at enhancing maintenance operations through machine monitoring and fault prediction.

As part of the initiative to master these tasks, ZF and PwC Germany will use Microsoft AI to improve planning efficiencies and effectiveness, improve maintenance, repair, and operations (MRO) inventory and present new insights to improve production performance.

“With our approach, we will help ZF to reduce conversion costs, improve inventory, performance, and quality, and to make its workforce more efficient,” outlined Reinhard Geissbauer, global head of Industry 4.0 and Digital Operations, PwC Germany.

A win-win-win situation
Microsoft, which provides the software solutions for PwC Germany’s approach, sees this project as relevant for the digital strategy for all automotive suppliers like ZF.

“Our aim is to make this initiative not only a best practice for success at ZF, but also an industry-wide inspiration to other automotive customers endeavouring on their own digitalisation projects. We see strong interest across the manufacturing sector globally to leverage digital technologies to drive quality as well as process optimisation, and we’re excited for this project to serve as a true benchmark.” Said Marianne Janik, area VP, Microsoft Germany.

By combining its business and process expertise, technology insights, and AI capabilities, the companies will integrate all aspects of how to digitise a factory from a single source.

The partners will come together to bring fully-networked plants to the next level. Smart factories not only work quickly and reliably, but they also offer a high degree of adaptability for rapid design changes. This leads to more engaged employees, increased business velocity, and stronger growth margins. This means ZF plants will not only benefit from the insights gained from digitising the Diepholz plant and the capabilities of the DMP, but other organisations may benefit as well. Other organisations can thus get a proven solution which improves manufacturing reference models, effectively reduces maintenance costs, predicts failures and optimizes material availability – from planning through execution.