The Living, Breathing Factory

Rosina Geiger

Instead of reinventing the assembly line, Ingolstadt, Germany-based startup arculus is abolishing it—and replacing it with a revolutionary modular production concept. It’s the end of the factory as we know it.

Henry Ford quipped, “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants, so long as it is black.” The Ford Model T came only in black because production constraints demanded it. Black paint dries more quickly than other colors, and since the assembly line painting process had to be performed in exactly 72 seconds, using a different color would have increased costs, employee numbers, and equipment requirements.

The age of mass customization

Today, you can order an Audi S3 in Glut Orange, a TT in Nimbus Grey, or an RS6 in Miami Blue. If that doesn’t satisfy you, you can have the Audi S6 in Imola Yellow or the A3 in Beluga Brown Metallic. And that’s before you get to the other numerous model-specific options, which range from different engines to variations in car interiors.

Welcome to the age of mass customization. It offers enough options to satisfy even the most demanding customers, yet breaks traditional supply chains and production lines.

Building a better future

If the startup arculus has its way, the traditional assembly line will soon become a thing of the past. Together with Audi, the arculus team is developing a new modular production concept that will increase efficiency by up to 30 percent while improving the employee working environment.

With the arculus modular concept, car bodies are shepherded through independent manufacturing stations by autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs). These driverless robot platforms are controlled by a central system. The AGV carries the car from one station to the next, where individual assembly steps are performed.

Unlike the assembly line of the past, process steps do not need to be performed in a predetermined order. If one work step lasts longer than another, for example, the AGV simply stays longer at that station. Gone is the familiar queue of car bodies as they move along a conveyor belt, giving workers an average of 90 seconds to complete their task.

The living factory

Masterminding this entire process is a computer which calculates which work steps must be done for every car on the plant floor. The system automatically sends the AGV carrying the car to the next available station. If a customer has not ordered custom options, for example, the AGV skips that station altogether. The finished vehicle is then ready for delivery even faster.

Sending each vehicle along the most efficient path through the factory quickly produces a large number of tangled paths. Like a game of chess, the central computer learns and organizes the workflow to accommodate the factory’s needs at any given moment.

arculus believes that the new production method will increase efficiency by about 30 percent within the next ten years.

“An arculus-driven factory plant is a living, breathing, thinking manufacturing environment,” says arculus COO Witold Kopytynski. “Like a lung, the entire system can dynamically expand or contract in capacity to accommodate changing production volumes.”

Thinking forward

In a just-in-time manufacturing environment that produces highly personalized versions of the same vehicle, the arculus approach is a revolution.

For employees, the ability to work at their own station at their own pace means less stress and more job satisfaction. Kopytynski believes that his team will help drive even more product individualization and personalization in the future. “With Modular Production, Henry Ford can have any color he wants–from black to Miami Blue to Imola Yellow –and every shade in between.”

The big idea

Ingolstadt-based startup arculus is replacing the century-old automotive assembly line with a revolutionary new Modular Production concept. Using self-guided robot car carriers, the system guides vehicles through only the individual manufacturing stations that are relevant for a specific order.

Why it’s big

In the era of mass customization, major brands will be able to manufacture large volumes of customized product variations quickly and efficiently–meeting the growing consumer demand for highly personalized offerings.

To learn more about how SAP is working with startups, get in touch with the SAP Startup Accelerator for Digital Supply Chain and SAP.iO.

Rosina Geiger

About Rosina Geiger

Rosina Geiger is the Director of Startup Engagement at SAP. She has worked at the Hasso Plattner Institute before joining SAP in 2016 to establish the SAP Startup Accelerator for Digital Supply Chain in Berlin and Palo Alto.