The project, supported by the European Commission and launched in October 2019, will be taking advantage of emerging manufacturing technologies to create, implement and disseminate modular production methods that will help European factories to reconfigure their assembly lines in order to be more productive and flexible and thus reactive to demand changes.
A 2018 report from Deloitte pointed out the growing interest from consumers for more customised products. By way of illustration, 36% of them are willing to purchase more personalised goods and services and a majority would even accept to pay more in this respect. However, it is also worth noting that more than half of the consumers are not inclined to wait longer to receive their order, even if customised.
The manufacturing paradigm has shifted from an era of mass-production to an era of mass-customisation. To that extent, the flexibility of reconfiguration of production plants has become a vital stake to be able to meet customer expectations.
However, factories, regardless of their size, face financial, training and technical obstacles on their way to more responsive production lines:
– Investors and banks are reluctant to grant funds that can foster the development of low-volume production initiatives as they are seen as less profitable.
– Workforce trained in modular technology is scarce.
– Factories are generally designed to produce a large quantity of one item. Being able to produce different items on one single assembly line requires heavy reconfiguration of the plant processes.
This is a severe handicap for the European manufacturing sector, a major employment provider and the largest export contributor on the Old Continent.
It is in this context that the DIMOFAC initiative came to life. The project is sponsored by the European Commission and is supported by a consortium of 30 European partners led by the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission (CEA).
Together, and for a period of 48 months, the partners of the consortium will be working on creating, validating and disseminating a homemade technology and process (the DIMOFAC Modular Factory Solution) making assembly lines more flexible to rapid demand changes by providing a portfolio of plug-and-produce modules which may be reconfigured and orchestrated thanks to a Digital Twin of the Factory:
1. The first stage of the project, involving six manufacturers from various industries (Albea Services, cosmetics packaging; Éirecomposites, Aerospace Components; Philips Consumer Lifestyle, Shavers; VDL Bus Modules, medical beds and telescope parts; Schaltag, interactive displays; Sculpteo, 3D printed parts) and part of the consortium, will aim at demonstrating the efficiency of the DIMOFAC Modular Factory Solution through pilot assembly lines.
2. During the second stage, these manufacturers will act as factory “lighthouses” by setting up industrial general-purpose showrooms for companies interested in investing in modular and reconfigurable production lines.
3. During the third stage, the consortium will provide modular production benchmarking services to more than a hundred existing companies belonging to the newly formed network of open pilot lines including in particular DIMOFAC partners and companies having expressed interest to offer services within the framework of DIMOFAC.
4. Finally, DIMOFAC will extend its modular production benchmarking services to more than a thousand companies throughout Europe that were not originally part of the aforementioned network.
The initiative should have a major impact on productivity, energy efficiency and costs. It is for instance estimated that the DIMOFAC Modular Factory Solution will enable plants to:
- Reduce by 15% the time it takes to reconfigure their production lines.
- Decrease by 10% the resources (raw materials, energy, fluids, manpower) used for the production process.
- Diminish by 15% the overall cost of production.
In the medium term, such benefits will translate into more skilled jobs, more growth and a lower environmental impact.