Digital Transformation

Making Digital Factories a Reality With the Power of AI

Continental's Head of Manufacturing Florian Helferich on Plans for Project DIAZI
Making Digital Factories a Reality With the Power of AI
Florian Helferich, head of manufacturing processes and solutions and digitalization - business area UX at Continental

Manufacturing companies often aspire to establish digital factories - a fully digitized production environment where new production lines are digitally planned, and production processes are virtually simulated to mirror physical factories. Continental, a German multinational automotive parts manufacturing company that develops technologies and services for sustainable and connected mobility of people and their goods, aims to make digital factory a reality for automotive manufacturing companies through project DIAZI.

The Digitalization of the Industrialization Process in the Automotive and Supplier Industry, or DIAZI, is a three-year project funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. This project will enable manufacturing companies to virtually launch new production plants before their commissioning. Driven by artificial intelligence, these virtual plants can help to continuously optimize processes, accurately predict productivity, and minimize downtime through in-depth data analysis of all machines. Various production plants of a company, as well as production sites of suppliers, can thus be connected to facilitate fast, scalable and high-quality production.

In an interview with ISMG, Florian Helferich, head of manufacturing processes and solutions and digitalization - business area UX at Continental, outlines plans for project DIAZI and explains how it will transform automotive manufacturing in digital factories.

Edited Excerpts Follow:

How do you see the transformation of production plants toward digital factories in the future?

We foresee a significant transformation in production plants evolving into digital factories. The DIAZI project plays a pivotal role in this transformation by seamlessly integrating digital technologies, automation and data analytics into the manufacturing process. This shift will result in enhanced agility, adaptability and overall competitiveness.

What is your vision for the DIAZI project?

Our vision for the DIAZI project is to revolutionize manufacturing in the automotive industry by leveraging cutting-edge technologies and innovative solutions to enable the digital factory. The aim of the project is to transfer our production plants into the digital world. By doing so, the efficiency, flexibility and cost-effectiveness of our production plants can be further increased.

Can you give us some timeline for this project?

The DIAZI project is planned for a three-year timeline. Key milestones include the initial demonstrator phase, full-scale implementation across selected locations, and ongoing refinements based on real-world plant feedback. We anticipate completing the project and achieving full operational efficiency by the end of 2025.

How is the DIAZI project expected to drive efficiencies and solve the biggest manufacturing challenges in the automobile industry?

The DIAZI project is designed to address the most crucial challenges throughout the industrialization process in the automotive industry. Through artificial intelligence, simulations and smart data management in the cloud, we strongly believe that the project will significantly improve production speed, resource utilization and production quality.

What kind of digital technologies are you using for this transformation? How can artificial intelligence, machine learning, LLMs, computer vision, gen AI and associated tech facilitate the transformation?

The DIAZI project incorporates a wide range of digital technologies, particularly, artificial intelligence. These technologies synergistically work to optimize production processes, improve predictive maintenance, enhance quality control and provide valuable insights for continuous improvement.

Can you explain your go-to-market strategy for the DIAZI project?

We plan to work with key industry players, including highly specialized startups and research organizations, to showcase the project's capabilities and generate interest. Following successful pilots, we will offer results from the DIAZI project as a base for industry and research to adapt specific applications.

Can you elaborate on the project funding? What are your expectations in terms of ROI?

The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action. While specific financial details are proprietary, we are confident that the ROI will be significant for our stakeholders. Our expectations include measurable improvements in production efficiency, cost savings, and a positive impact on the overall competitiveness of our clients in the global market. We look forward to demonstrating the tangible results of the DIAZI project.

Will you be selling this as a turnkey solution? If so, to whom and when?

Currently, we are in the development phase since the project is estimated to run until the end of 2025. As the project progresses, we will be investigating the possibilities and communicate those at a later date.

Which Continental locations are expected to implement project DIAZI? Any plans to collaborate with original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)?

Implementation of the DIAZI project is planned across various Continental locations. Within this phase of the project, we are closely collaborating with OEMs for respective work packages. If further progress of the project shows that there are synergies that could lead to a concrete implementation, we will communicate this at a later point.

Do you have any plans to introduce DIAZI in the Indian market?

India is a key market for us, and we have definite plans to introduce the DIAZI project potential in the Indian manufacturing landscape. We recognize the potential for growth and innovation in the Indian market, and our project implementation strategy includes this region, considering Continental has more than one plant in India. All developments within the DIAZI project are expected to be rolled out in India and other BA UX production locations.

Do you aim to expand DIAZI implementation to other manufacturing industries in the future?

While our primary focus is on the automobile industry, we envision extending the benefits of the DIAZI project to other manufacturing sectors in the future. The underlying principles of efficiency, sustainability and innovation are applicable across various industries.

Helferich drives global initiatives in DIAZI, standardization, equipment project management, advanced automation, and Industry 4.0 at Continental. He has extensive experience in leading international projects, aligning global teams, and optimizing production methods in plant engineering.

About the Author

Brian Pereira

Brian Pereira

Sr. Director - Editorial, ISMG

Pereira has nearly three decades of journalism experience. He is the former editor of CHIP, InformationWeek and CISO MAG. He has also written for The Times of India and The Indian Express.

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