Happy Manufacturing Day! On the first Friday of every October, U.S. manufacturers of all stripes, including Flex, come together to inspire you to consider a career in our exciting and rapidly evolving industry as we build the factory of the future.
Until the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything in early 2020, our teams across the U.S. had celebrated Manufacturing Day by welcoming secondary school students to our facilities and giving them a glimpse of life on the manufacturing floor. While we are not hosting in-person Manufacturing Day events this year out of an abundance of caution, we feel strongly about continuing this important tradition in some form.
Therefore, we would like to invite you on a virtual tour of our Althofen facility in Austria. You may be wondering: why go halfway around the world? While every Flex site is special by way of its specializations and expertise, Althofen is especially remarkable for having just been inducted into the World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Lighthouse Network of advanced manufacturers.
This remarkable distinction recognizes Flex for pioneering advanced manufacturing practices to transform its operations. Althofen joins 89 other innovative Lighthouses across the world in embracing the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0 (I4.0), to make our factories smarter, safer and more sustainable. Enabled by technologies like artificial intelligence, advanced sensors, robotics and analytics, Industry 4.0 represents not only a shift in manufacturing processes but a fundamental revamp of the industrial value chain. As we enter the fourth iteration of the industrial revolution, much of what we have envisioned as “the factory of the future” is unfolding before our eyes.
Seeding Althofen’s Industry 4.0 journey
Before we start our tour, allow us to set the stage. A historic and charming hilltop town of 5,000 residents, Althofen is located in Austria’s southern state of Carinthia (Kärnten). Our facilities here began as a Philips-owned factory in 1970 that got its start making radios. More than 50 years later, our team of 950 Flex employees are helping to build some 500 different products for our medical, automotive and industrial customers.
Our Althofen team made a strategic decision in 2017 to invest in smart manufacturing to be better positioned to serve high-complexity markets like Class III medical devices that demand high quality. As Flex Althofen operates in a mature European economy, it competes with lower cost sites in Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. In response to this challenge, the team looked to transform its site operations to both reduce cost and accelerate time to market using intelligent, automated processes. Importantly, the team also adopted smart systems and mechanisms to significantly minimize error and improve quality standards, which is vital to the production of critical medical devices.
As Flex Althofen deployed its I4.0 technology stack over the years, a world-class manufacturing ecosystem began to emerge.
Flex factory of the future tour starts here
With no further ado, let’s play the video below and begin our tour of Flex Althofen and see a few examples of the smart solutions that permeate our operations.
Did the video leave you with a sense that our Althofen factory can herald new opportunities? Imagine working alongside cobots that assemble parts at rapid speed then viewing real-time yield metrics simply by putting on augmented reality glasses. Many members of our Flex Family, whose careers began on the shop floor, are mesmerized by these new possibilities that beckon. We have come a long way since many of our parents, grandparents – or in your case, great grandparents – worked in factories where manual work prevailed before automation began to become more prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s.
Today, we have combined connectivity, the cloud, sensors and analytics to create a fully integrated production ecosystem. The left hand knows what the right is doing because they’re exchanging information continuously in real time, leading to an ecosystem that is aware, responsive and agile.
The fourth industrial revolution is creating once-in-a-generation career possibilities in manufacturing.
Better outcomes enabled by I4.0 technologies
For all the excitement around I4.0 innovations, let’s remember that technology is ultimately an enabler and our end point is better outcomes.
You saw in the video how smart factories brought benefits to our employees while enabling them to minimize environmental impact. As we virtualize our operations to provide end-to-end visibility into the entire value chain, you and other professionals of tomorrow will want to be positioned to excel in a data-driven world, regardless of the path you choose. In Althofen, we have trained 100 percent of our IT, production and engineering teams to use intelligent applications and machines.
To date, 30 percent of our back-office workers have also been trained to work with I4.0 technologies so they can build their own dashboards and workflows to optimize decision-making using real time single-source-of-truth while eliminating manual data provision.
Not only have these team members elevated their skills, they are doing work that is less repetitive and more fulfilling. Our IT staff, for instance, has moved from troubleshooting systems to designing and deploying Industry 4.0 solutions. As these team members gain new skills, more career doors will open for them.
Many studies tell us that your generation is committed to making a difference and that your choices – from the careers you pursue to the brands you buy from – are informed by your values.1 This purpose-driven mindset has inspired businesses to do the right thing. Flex, for instance, is driven by a mission to build products that improve lives and make the world better. It is not a coincidence that we have been steering towards products like medical devices and renewable power systems.
And as I4.0 tools have enabled a revamp of our operations, their impact ripples well beyond our factory floor.
With a safer and better trained workforce, we are more resilient while improved visibility helps us anticipate and respond quicker. Our operational agility and efficiency gains have helped Flex Althofen grow its revenue by 50 percent while profit has nearly doubled from 2017 levels. Although automation is used widely on our shop floor, this has not displaced a single team member. In fact, our Althofen team has become bigger every year since 2017 to support our growing business. Meanwhile, we continue to expand our apprenticeship and internship programs – by the way, the boxes used by LISA to communicate with the production lines were built by our apprentices! Clearly, when we do well, we can invest more in our factories, our people, our communities and our planet.
Manufacturing is a vibrant industry that has seen double-digit U.S. job growth since mid-20172. We’re only in the early days of the fourth industrial revolution, which we believe is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reimagine how we design, build and reuse products. There is a lot more to do and many great opportunities await you. From material science experts to supply chain managers to data scientists, our industry requires a deep bench of diverse talent spanning many domains. Please check out our job openings to get exposure to the wide-ranging vocational and career possibilities that manufacturing provides.
While these last 21 months have been challenging for you, we know you are resilient and eager to forge ahead. While it may feel like we’ve been in an eternal holding pattern towards normalcy, we assure you that manufacturing has a bright future ahead with many exciting opportunities and hope you will join us as we continue our fourth industrial revolution journey.