On the way to profitable growth in the Digital Age

In the Digital Age, technology progresses at a very rapid pace. It has brought us increasingly powerful processors, ever larger data storage media, progressively complex algorithms and ever greater connectivity. It can either be easily perceived as a threat, or as a challenge which opens great opportunities for a successful future.

“We have plenty of ideas about how to support customers on their journeys in the Digital Age.”

Patrick Tomczak, head of KION Digital Campus

A brightly lit hallway and a glass door with a hand-drawn bright red logo: KION Digital Campus. Patrick Tomczak, head of the new group, throws open the door. Inside, there are no desks or cubicles to be found, nor any other kind of office compartments for that matter. Instead, there is a distinct start-up atmosphere: comfy work spaces, areas for constructive discussions and loads of post-its.

The KION Digital Campus has been created to accelerate the company’s digitalization projects. Away from daily business, an inspiring microcosm has emerged not far from KION’s Frankfurt headquarters, which provides space to explore new ideas in creative ways. Teams arrive at the Campus with a vision and spend time working on the solution with Tomczak's team, who are essentially agile coaches and designers. Most employees are not personally familiar with these new work approaches, including design thinking, agile methodologies and sprints. Yet, as unconventional as the approaches may sound, the results are tangible. “Teams have to come up with a prototype within less than a week. On paper, a lot of things look logical, but only once you have a prototype can you identify the weaknesses of a concept,” notes Patrick Tomczak. It is part of the ‘fail fast’ mentality, which is the norm at the Campus offices.

Working with the KION Digital Campus professionals, a team from Linde Material Handling’s service division, has used the approach to develop and improve products such as Intelligent Service Report, an add-on to an existing application. It simplifies the service technicians’ work steps – from order receipt to customer signature – and includes a linking to the spare parts catalogue via a voice-activated assistant. Further projects are already in the pipeline.

From vision to reality

The Digital Campus is just one of several pillars the KION Group is building for its successful journey in the Digital Age. It was created to facilitate the delivery of its overarching KION 2027 Group strategy, where digitalization plays a key role. To underline this focus, KION Group has also created a new Executive Board function, the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). For the next five years, Susanna Schneeberger holds the important role, giving additional weight to the topic.

Digital transformation is already well under way at the company. It becomes clear at KION’s Stříbro plant in Czech Republic, a 24,000-sq.-m. site where production processes have been automated and networked online. The Manufacturing Execution System guides employees through their work during mast and cabin assembly, providing direct feedback on quality features so that any deviations can be immediately addressed. It also provides a clear indication of where each product is in the manufacturing process. These are all essential elements of a smart factory, a concept that represents the future of manufacturing and which is already in use at KION today. Digital technology has made a significant contribution to optimizing internal processes and significantly reducing costs.

Digital helpers

KION Group has been providing customers with extensive added value through a variety of digital solutions. Digital fleet management is just one example. Here, predictive diagnostics, preventive repairs and industrial truck maintenance help to reduce breakdowns and optimize operating times. Better capacity utilization leads to more efficient goods handling and the customer can generate more revenue.

The spectrum of digital solutions that KION and its brands develop for customers is extensive and includes fully automated warehouses, autonomous trucks that run without an operator as well as digital helpers – including driver assistance systems – which support employees on site. The iGo neo-horizontal picker made by STILL is an impressive example of how humans and machines can work together in perfect cooperation. It takes on the physically strenuous work and thus accelerates logistical processes. It effortlessly follows the picker through the warehouse, always stopping in the most effective relative position to the picker. It increases order picking efficiency by up to 30 percent. To put that into context, the typical productivity gain in conventional warehouse optimization is 1.5 to 2 percent.

Ready for future challenges

Digitalization will continue to revolutionize the world, especially the world of industry and commerce. “As an intralogistics specialist, these market developments represent both a challenge and an opportunity for KION Group,” says Eike Böhm, KION’s Chief Technology Officer, summing up the paradigm shift. Goods are being moved around much faster and in a much more complex way than ever before. To keep pace, it is necessary to turn to flexible and highly automated logistics and intralogistics solutions. “The onus is on us to develop these solutions and to provide our customers with optimal support that meets their needs – regardless of whether it is in retail or industry, the warehouse, or the plant.”

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