Cluster of Excellence »Integrative Production Technology for High-Wage Countries«

In the Cluster of Excellence »Integrative Production Technology for High-Wage Countries« process engineers and materials scientists based in Aachen are developing new concepts and technologies offering a sustainable approach to industrial manufacturing.

A total of 18 chairs and institutes of RWTH Aachen University, together with the Fraunhofer Institutes for Laser Technology ILT and for Production Technology IPT, are working on this project, which in the first instance will run until the end of 2011.

Funding of approx. 40 million euros has been granted to this Cluster of Excellence, an initiative that unites the largest number of research groups in Europe devoted to the objective of preserving manufacturing activities in high-wage countries.

Production in High-Wage Countries

The competition between manufacturers in high-wage and low-wage countries typically manifests itself as a two-dimensional problem, opposing production efficiency and planning efficiency.

In each case there are divergent approaches. With respect to production efficiency, low-wage countries tend to focus exclusively on economies of scale, whereas high-wage countries are obliged to seek a balanced equilibrium between scale and scope, in other words being able to satisfy customer requirements in respect of a particular product while at the same time attaining a minimum production volume.

A similar divergence is evident with respect to the second factor, that of planning efficiency. Manufacturers in high-wage countries aim to continuously optimize their processes, using correspondingly sophisticated, capital-intensive planning methods and instruments, and technologically superior production systems. In low-wage countries, by contrast, production needs are better served by simple, robust, supply- chain-oriented processes.

In order to maintain a sustainable competitive advantage for production sites in high-wage countries, it is no longer sufficient to aim for a better position that maximizes economies of scale and scope or reconciles the opposing extremes of a planning- oriented and a value-oriented approach. Instead, the goal of research must be to cancel out these opposite poles as far as possible. Ways must be found to allow a greater variability of products while at the same time being able to manufacture them at cost levels equivalent to mass production. This calls for value-optimized supply chains suited to each product, without excessive planning overheads that would compromise their cost-effectiveness.

Tomorrow’s production technology therefore requires a thoroughly new understanding of these elementary, interrelated factors.