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Future of Work – Dawning of a New Era

As manufacturing processes steadily increase in complexity, fixed working hours from nine-to-five are becoming obsolete – even at the shop floor. But how can capacity management become as flexible as today’s demand changes? The project KapaFlexCy (Self-organized Capacity Management in Cyber-Physical Systems - in German) investigates new forms of a self-organized capacity management, using real-time machine data, mobile devices and web 2.0 technologies. The research project is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research, and carried out by the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Fraunhofer IAO, SAP, Stuttgart Airport and other partners from industry and academia.

Platform for Coordinating Capacity

The project’s main idea is that capacity is best managed by the workers themselves. In cooperation with Stuttgart airport and other partners, SAP is developing a tool that collects all necessary data and provides employees with a platform for coordinating capacity. The employees are being equipped with smart phones that allow them to react on requests for additional shifts, longer working hours, or work on the coming week-end, for example. The labor teams use the smart phones to commit themselves to new work assignments – on their own responsibility, at short notice, and highly flexible. Thus, the operations can closely following the customer orders and demand.

SAP is currently developing a mock-up version that is planned to be available by end of 2013. The next milestones are realizing a ready-to-use, functional prototype by October 2014 and deploying a pilot app at project industry partners from March 2014 to August 2015.

Balance Work and Life more Flexible

The tool allows employees to reserve time for leisure activities and balance job duties and their private life – as most office workers can already do today. The KapaFlexCy apps enable the workers to decide case by case about additional working hours, based on full transparency on the current demand and financial compensation for the extra work. Employees thus become an active part of the business process. By enabling employees to create their own schedule and to take control of their working schedule, flexibility will go hand in hand with motivation.

Getting to Work with Industrie 4.0

Capacity Management is only one aspect of the many changes which are brought on to the future workplace by the so called 4th Industrial Revolution (see SAP Thought Leadership Paper on Idea to Performance. Maximizing Opportunity in a New, Technology-Dri...). As machines are becoming smarter, the work in production lines will be enriched and simple manual tasks will disappear. Workers will become coordinators who ensure a smooth production and only intervene when a machine calls for action. However, flexibility continues to be the main challenge. As Rainer Glatz, head of the informatics department of VDMA (German Association for Machine Engineering and plant manufacturing) puts it “Flexibility has always been a main topic for businesses. An additional aspect today is that employees demand this flexibility. Working time and free time are more interwoven than ever before. Market volatility and rigid working time systems cannot go together.”

The KapaflexCy research project takes this topic serious and works on the next generation of capacity management. It enables companies to manage their production capacities in a highly flexible way, together with the employees who perform the work. The project helps to speed up response times to customer orders, reduce unproductive sequences, and enable easier capacity planning.