Just-in-sequence trends: Technologies with potential

Delivering parts not only at the desired time and in the right quantity, but also in the right order - that is the fine art of JIS!

Just-in-sequence trends: Technologies with potential

E-mobility, digitization and changing customer requirements pose a number of new challenges not only for OEMs, but also for automotive suppliers. In order to deal with them effectively, innovations and cooperation are required. And: lean processes - especially in just-in-sequence assembly and logistics.

E-mobility is an enormous opportunity for the climate. It is more of a risk for employees at OEMs and suppliers. And a job risk. A commission of experts recently estimated that the switch from internal combustion engines to electric motors could, in extreme cases, cut up to 410,000 jobs in Germany. Then there are the effects of digitization. Tasks that are still performed by humans today are gradually being taken over by technologies. However, electrification and digitization do not only have negative effects on the personnel level. The company level is also affected. For suppliers this means in concrete terms: In some cases, the demand for their products is falling - because they are only required for vehicles with internal combustion engines. In some cases, they have to adapt to the new requirements of the OEMs.

Just in Sequence reloaded: Leaner and faster

There is certainly no one way out of the current crisis. Rather, different approaches should be combined: A more intensive development of innovations in the products and in the business model is certainly just as much a part of it as strategic cooperation with other suppliers and manufacturers. The promotion of the lean idea is also indispensable. What Toyota has been doing since the 1950s is now standard in the automotive industry in Germany. However, lean production is not yet exhausted - especially since there is still a lot of potential in digital technologies.

This is the case with just-in-sequence assembly and logistics, for example. For several years now, OEMs have been demanding that their suppliers not only deliver parts to the assembly line at the right time, but also in the right order. Those who fail to do this often have no chance. And because more and more automotive customers want more and more individualized vehicles, the JIS principle is likely to be used for more and more parts. It is quite possible that the time window between order retrieval and delivery will also become shorter and shorter. Two conclusions can be drawn from this: Firstly, more and more suppliers are likely to be faced with the task of establishing processes and technologies in order to meet JIS requirements. And secondly, the existing systems have to be adapted so that delivery can be made even more flexibly and, at the same time, efficiency - in line with the lean idea - increases.

Industry 4.0: optimize processes and procedures, save time and money

In order to achieve this, a whole series of innovations that have appeared on the market in the course of digitization are interesting. From our point of view, three of them are particularly important:

Trend 1: Autonomous systems

Assembly and logistics in a just-in-sequence context are personnel-intensive and therefore cost-intensive due to the high level of coordination required. At the same time, it is important to ensure high speed and a low error rate in the processes and the products. In this respect, it is advisable for suppliers to steadily expand the degree of autonomy. On the one hand, this requires smart devices. On the other hand, data must flow unhindered between all the assets involved and the IT systems. The solution that receives the order requests should, for example, be closely interlinked with the containers used in assembly in order to implement a pick-by-light scenario. Driverless transport systems or drones are also of interest in this context. For example, an intelligent container could independently register its transport in the system, which automatically sets the most suitable AGVS on its way. Key technologies that are combined in all of this are actuators and sensors, open interfaces, standardized protocols and formats, specific business software and artificial intelligence.

Trend 2: Artificial intelligence (AI)

In fact, artificial intelligence - even if the term is not entirely unproblematic because there is currently no clear understanding - occupies a special position. Because only AI enables technology to make independent decisions. And that is the essential requirement for autonomy. In addition, AI is excellent at recognizing patterns and relationships in data. This works very well when evaluating machine data, which means that predictive maintenance can be implemented. Analyzes of large amounts of data with AI can also be used to identify optimization potential in the entire JIS process. Image recognition through AI is not yet fully developed. However, it is already sufficient today to fully automatically recognize barcodes or to control an AGV through a shop floor.

Trend 3: Collaboration between man and machine

Despite all the new technologies, including AI, people will remain indispensable for numerous tasks in the future. In doing so, they will often work very closely with machines - with the help of a number of innovative interfaces. This includes data glasses with which reality can be simulated (virtual reality) or expanded. VR scenarios could be used to design and test intralogistic processes and workplaces in order to identify possible difficulties during the planning phase. With AR scenarios, employees could be provided with additional information - depending on the context and in relation to their viewing direction: The container from which an employee should remove a part may then simply be marked in red. Or the route to the correct compartment is shown to the forklift driver. Communication with technology via a voice assistant is also advantageous because data queries and inputs are also possible without contact.

These are three trends that we consider particularly important because suppliers can easily integrate them into the existing just-in-sequence-oriented process and system landscapes. But of course there are a lot more interesting developments: from blockchain to 3D printing. If automotive suppliers want to be successful in the future and increase their importance for manufacturers, they should keep an eye on digital progress and systematically examine the potential of new technologies: Can they be used for innovative business models and products? And can processes - especially just-in-sequence processes - be made leaner?