The whole factory as an integrated data model
Head of Dürr Consulting speaks about current trends
Bipolar plates, prismatic battery cells, vertical farming, or the metaverse – what may be unfamiliar to many are trends that Dürr Consulting has been dealing with for quite some time. Its new director, Ulrich Grimm, talks about why sustainability has been a hot topic for him and his team and in which industrial segments, aside from the automotive industry, Dürr Consulting provides advice.
Sustainability is a hot topic right now. But Dürr Consulting has been focusing on this for a number of years now, hasn’t it?
Grimm: Sustainability has always been a topic in factory planning and consequently for Dürr Consulting. Efficient factories, for example, consume less energy, take up less floorspace, and integrate the employees by considering aspects such as ergonomic requirements. What is new is the distinct focus and emphasis on this topic, along with its incorporation into legal requirements etc. It has now become clear to everyone that failure to address sustainability issues would cause us serious problems in the medium term.
For years, we have been involved – at least indirectly – in shaping the shift toward a sustainable society.
What does this mean for you and your team in practice?
For us at Dürr Consulting, sustainability is giving rise to entirely new projects and customer groups. For years, we have been involved – at least indirectly – in shaping the shift toward a sustainable society. We have been doing this by almost exclusively developing production systems and plants for electric vehicles, battery systems, fuel cell components, or heat pumps. We have also conducted internal studies to delve into topics such as battery recycling, as part of the circular economy, and vertical farming.
What are the latest trends that are demanding your and your customers’ attention?
Broadly speaking, we can see two major trends: The first one is digitalization of the value chain. This extends from system planning through to operation. The second is making production systems increasingly flexible and adaptable to meet ever-rapidly changing market requirements. In this context, we are increasingly coming across buzzwords such as “digital twin” or “metaverse” when talking to our customers. They aim to represent the factory as a whole through an integrated data model – from the initial concepts through to the realization of facilities and their operation. It is thus possible to create a system that is self-optimizing in the long term and that can be used to simulate and test adaptations and their effects as quickly as possible.
Just like other parts of the Group, we now successfully use our technical expertise in additional sectors, too.
Dürr Consulting realigned itself a few years ago. Can you tell us more about that?
The roots of Dürr Consulting date back to 1985, when it was mostly active in the area of final automotive assembly. Just like other parts of the Group, we now successfully use our technical expertise in additional sectors, too. This is why we have created a team that specifically handles such topics. Since technologies can no longer be mapped without digitalization components, we have formed another team that concentrates on the digitalization of production. This enables us to offer our customers integrated solutions including process, technology, logistics, and digitalization. That said, the automotive field remains our core business since we can transfer many approaches from this particularly optimized industry to other sectors.
Can you let us know what projects you are currently executing outside the automotive industry?
Here, the picture is quite varied. The main projects relate to products that directly serve the field of sustainability. For a long time now, we have been supporting a customer in factory planning and in realizing a large production plant for heat pumps. A few years ago, we started selecting sites for this plant and are now managing the implementation project until the plant goes into production at the end of the year. We are advising another customer on what is so far a unique production line for bipolar plates. Going forward, this core component of fuel cells is set to play a key part in mobility, alongside battery technology.
You also work in the field of battery production, right?
Yes, that’s right. At Dürr Consulting, we steer Dürr’s strategic partnership with the mechanical engineering firms Grob and Manz. The three companies have joined forces to establish themselves as a European end-to-end supplier for equipping battery factories. For this we are currently developing a production concept for prismatic battery cells.
Is the focus in the automotive area on the production of electric vehicles? Do you tend to work with start-ups here or with large, established OEMs?
There have been hardly any projects in recent years that haven’t revolved around electric vehicles. Over the last 5 years we have mainly supported start-ups, although things are now shifting a bit. Many newcomers are facing financial problems and the established OEMs are further expanding their EV portfolios. With start-ups, we have mainly been involved in greenfield projects working on new plants, while with OEMs it is more about integration into existing structures. This could involve anything from electric sports cars through to electric vans.
Digitalization is not only important for the automotive area. Is Dürr Consulting involved in the digital planning of production sites or the digitalization of assembly processes?
Both. In our digitalization projects, we apply our expertise as factory planners and our knowledge of systems and processes. We define the requirements of production in terms of the digital environment. We thus create a higher level of transparency in production and we increase efficiency. Apart from these projects, which take place in the environment of MES, MOM, or other manufacturing systems, the team handles the digitalization of planning and of the production system itself. Together with Dürr’s subsidiary Dualis, we use Visual Components as the virtual environment for factory planning and are thus gradually venturing into the sphere of the digital twin or the metaverse.
How is Dürr Consulting different from other factory planning consultants?
What sets us apart from others is the end-to-end support we offer our customers, from the initial planning through to assisting them with their factory start-up. Through our wide-ranging integration within the Dürr Group, we also offer the unique opportunity to test the feasibility of technical concepts with the relevant departments. This is something only very few consultants can offer in the market, which is why we can often compete with large consultancy firms, particularly when it comes to technical matters.
Ulrich Grimm has been working for Dürr Consulting since 2017. Since June 1, 2023, the 34-year-old has been heading up this area of the Dürr Group. Prior to joining Dürr, he worked in different roles with OEMs, in consulting, and in the pharmaceutical trade.