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Factory2Fit Spotlight Feature – Professor Ralph Riedel

Factory2Fit Spotlight Feature

Professor Ralph Riedel 

Chemnitz University of Technology 

 

Two departments within Chemnitz University of Technology (TUC) are participating in the Factory2Fit project. The department of Factory Planning and Factory Management is focusing on the development of innovative production systems, covering a wide range of questions in the field of Industrial Engineering and Operations Management. The department of Cognitive and Engineering Psychology is focusing on Human-Machine-Interaction with automated systems in various domains. This includes learning processes, and skill acquisition as well as the development of trust, acceptance and mental models of automated systems.

Today we sat down with F2F partner Professor Ralph Riedel – Adjunct Professor and research group leader at the department of Factory Planning and Factory Management in Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany – to talk about his role in the Factory2Fit project.

Thanks for speaking to us today Ralph. Could you begin by telling us where you work?

I’m based in the Technical University of Chemnitz (TUC). I joined the university almost 14 years ago, in 2003. Before that I worked in practice at an engineering company, so I come from an industry background. I suppose it’s a little unusual to make the move from industry to academia.

 

So you combine industry experience with the academic side. That must be interesting for students. What kind of subjects do you cover? 

Our department belongs to the faculty of mechanical engineering and I do a lot of teaching on industrial engineering topics. For example, production planning control, project management, basics of industrial engineering and management, factory planning, and so on. There are almost 3,000 students in the faculty, and around 11,000 students in TUC as a whole. Although we are a technical university, many of our students are in non-technical programmes (business administration, philosophy, and things like that).

 

And what does your typical working day look like?

My typical working day really depends on the semesters. In the winter term I do a lot of teaching. We’re currently in the middle of the exam period at the moment so I’m busy correcting exam papers and doing administration work. I also always supervise a couple of students working on their Master’s thesis. So a considerable amount of my time is dedicated to teaching and supervising students

Fortunately in the summer term there’s more time for research. I’m responsible for a research group in the department. This role involves a lot of project management, research management, meetings, going to presentations, writing proposals, and applying for research funding.

It’s not only funded projects on the research side. We also work closely with industry on purely industry-focused projects, which they fund, e.g. optimizing material flow and layout, designing concepts for logistics systems, evaluating and optimising the way production planning is done, etc. So for two days this week I was on-site with a factory in southern Germany, where we have a layout planning task.

We cover a wide variety of topics – which makes my job very interesting.

 

What do you like most about the role?

Mainly, I like the variety. I like that the teaching aspect is complemented by the research aspect.

It’s very enjoyable to work with students, and see how they get into a topic. We do a lot of interactive learning, with simulation games and using case studies. We also try to involve them in some projects so you can see how they learn and how they apply their new knowledge.

I also like that we do applied science – so it’s not only reading papers and reading books and composing papers, but it’s doing something that you get to put into practice. You see the actual results of the research in reality and that’s a really good thing from my point of view.

 

How do your professional interests match the objectives of Factory2Fit? Is there anything in particular that appeals to you about the project?

Here we carry out research on the design of production systems and how these systems should be designed to meet the challenges of the future.

And I think what we’re doing in Factory2Fit is one piece of the puzzle to fulfill these requirements. The focus on adaptability, and also the focus on the human – this is something that we consider as very important. I think that we, and also a lot of other people, are very aware that it is necessary. But so far there is no real solution for that.

So with Factory2Fit we have the chance to contribute to making industry production systems fit for the future.

 

What is unique about Factory2Fit in your opinion?

Looking back to when I was a student – when we talked about production systems and the design of processes and factories, and so on, I was told (and it was written in a lot of papers and books) that adapting the system to a particular person is the vision of a production system design, of human factors .

And at the same time we were told that this is nearly impossible, because flexibility of the system costs a lot of money and we need to meet certain standards. And that’s why you always have to be oriented on the average characteristics of people – to certain percentiles.

With Factory2Fit we’re going a step further. This will be a good chance to really adapt the system to an individual – and not just to a group or a range of people. From my point of view this is something that is very innovative.

 

Has anything surprised you in the first six months of the project?

What was a nice surprise from my perspective is the combination of a wide range of disciplines that are involved in the project – from psychologists to human factors, engineers, IT, and mathematics.

All these groups of disciplines have nice concepts that are contributing to the project’s overall objectives. Everyone involved in the Factory2Fit project is bringing different skills and experience to the table.

 

What do you see as the biggest challenge for the project?

In a similar way, working in an inter-disciplinary way could also be seen as a challenge. As far as I know from other projects, sometimes different disciplines have a different vocabulary, have different mindsets, and have different concepts. So I think one challenge is for us to bring all of these things together.

We’re also facing a current challenge in bringing together the academic aspiration with the needs of the industry partners. Often in industry you need something that is tangible, pragmatic, and easily explainable to others.

On the other hand we have a very challenging objective in the project, and some very innovative concepts. So combining these priorities could be challenging.

 

Describe the coordination between TUC and the other partners? Who are you mainly working with? 

So far in the project we’ve been working mostly in Work Package 2 (Quantified self-measures, monitoring and worker modelling) and Work Package 3 (Methods & tools for continuous adaptation of the manufacturing process), as well as contributing to Work Package 4 (Engaging the worker and the work community).

In Work Package 2 we have been working mainly with VTT – particularly my colleagues from the psychology department in TUC. They are working on the topic of smart devices. We are also collaborating a lot with our Greek colleagues in CERTH. They have a lot of experience on the user model, in user modelling, databases, and so on. So there is also an overlap with Work Package 3, where we also work very intensively with our colleagues from CERTH.

We’re building on each other’s expertise – everyone has already done a lot of valuable work. And there’s a lot of expertise that can be brought into the project.

I’ve learned so far in Factory2Fit that there is a lot we can build on. So for instance, our colleagues from CERTH have already done a lot of work in user modelling, which we can use and expand on further, adding Factory2Fit-specific variables along the way.

 

Are there three key words that come to mind when describing the overall impact of Factory2Fit?

Firstly, I think of ‘adaptability’. Because that’s actually what we want to get at the end – adaptability of the production system, that will meet the requirements of the ongoing dynamics inside or outside the company.

As a second key word I would choose ‘user-orientation’. As I already explained, that’s something that I consider as really innovative, especially when you think of a particular individual, or user.

And the third one I would choose is ‘knowledge-sharing’ or ‘knowledge-base’. What we do with the user model is also very important in the future. Because it’s not just going to be a technology, that changes material or produces products.  I think also a researcher knowledge-base will be important for the sustainable development of a production system, or of a company as a whole. This can also be very valuable for an entire community and even for an economy, as long as part of the knowledge-base is shared outside the company.

 

Thank you Ralph. We look forward to updates of your progress in the project.