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While machine and plant manufacturers are global leaders with their products, according to Aachen-based optimization specialist INFORM, companies are often far less innovative when it comes to optimal production planning. Digital and intelligent solutions could therefore help not only to better master current challenges, but also to maintain a stable course towards the future in the long term. According to INFORM, the five key aspects that the industry should address this year are as follows:

Implementation of an industry-specific solution

In practice, many mechanical and plant engineering companies still work with outdated planning methods. However, these are usually unable to cope with the high level of complexity and are also very time-consuming and error-prone. The implementation of a comprehensive industry solution offers significant advantages, as it is specially tailored to the complex planning challenges of mechanical engineering, understands industry-specific processes and problems and can be seamlessly integrated into existing systems and workflows.

Enabling holistic planning

In order to be able to deliver on time, purely department-oriented thinking is counterproductive. Particularly in the case of short-term rescheduling, for example due to delivery delays or machine breakdowns, it is not expedient for individual areas such as assembly or production to act in isolation. Modern planning systems, on the other hand, enable holistic planning and can even handle highly complex production environments with the help of mathematical algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI). Instead of only optimizing sub-areas of the production process, they enable a holistic view of the entire value creation process and allow tasks to be coordinated across departments or plants. Bottlenecks and delays can thus be identified and avoided at an early stage.

Recognizing the potential of data quality and availability

Data is the fuel of modern planning tools. However, according to INFORM, the basis for intelligent and automated production planning is laid faster than most companies believe. Contrary to popular belief, the use of intelligent systems does not necessarily require a perfectly prepared data basis. Estimates are often sufficient, as a gradual data cleansing process usually takes place during the introduction of such systems. Intelligent systems can optimize processes even with incomplete or incorrect data and improve data quality through transparent presentation. Machine learning algorithms can also examine data sets for patterns and correlations and thus contribute to more precise scheduling and more reliable planning.

Considering the combination of people and systems

The ongoing discussion about the future role of people in production planning is keeping the industry busy, often focusing on the question of whether intelligent solutions will replace people. However, such systems should support planners in their daily work and open up new possibilities for them. They are not intended to replace human work, but to simplify and improve it. For example, AI-supported planning can carry out complex calculation processes more completely and faster than humans. The aim is to take into account the combination of human skills and machine performance, as this generally leads to higher quality and more sustainable solutions. However, human expertise remains indispensable for dealing with exceptional situations and controlling the system.

Focusing on sustainable production

Using resources efficiently, reducing CO2 emissions and having as little impact on the environment as possible - these should have long been indispensable principles in mechanical engineering. With digital and forward-looking planning, machine manufacturers automatically avoid expensive and environmentally harmful urgent deliveries, optimize their stock levels and thus reduce energy consumption and waste of raw materials. At the same time, it helps to make optimum use of machine capacity. In this way, optimal production planning not only increases the efficiency and competitiveness of companies, but also makes a significant contribution to sustainability.

More resilient and safer in the future

"The challenges facing the mechanical and plant engineering sector require digital production planning that is tailored to the specific requirements of the industry and is also intelligent, flexible and sustainable," emphasizes Stipo Nad, Head of Business Development Production at INFORM. "This adaptability enables customers to respond better to change, making companies more resilient and secure for the future."