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Production Technology meets Industry 4.0 in reality

In our annual Summer School Production Technology meets Industry 4.0, which we have been hosting since 2016, our international students explore the latest inventions and developments in state-of-the-art production technology from different perspectives. In order to understand the topic holistically, they spend 3 weeks dealing with material science, machine optimization, human-machine interaction, factory planning and value chains of different industries.

Since the best way to learn is not only to deal with theory, all Summer School programs also include sessions for hands-on learning: case studies, institute visits, expert talks and company tours. The latter primarily to make students familiar with the German industry and spark their interest in internships or entry-level positions.

This year, we again had the honor of cooperating with the traditional German company Henkel for this Summer School.

Henkel's main plant in Düsseldorf – a showcase for innovation and sustainability

The main plant in Düsseldorf Holthausen produces detergents and household cleaners and, in addition to the production of powder detergent and "Somat" dishwasher tabs, also includes Henkel's largest liquid detergent production in Europe.

The plant has received several awards, including "Factory of the Year," "Innovative Workplace - Production," and also the "Advanced 4th Industrial Revolution Lighthouse" Award in the categories of Manufacturing and Sustainability for its outstanding developments in the area of digitization.

Insights into Henkel's production processes and digitization strategies

Last Thursday, we were welcomed in Düsseldorf in the best rainy weather. After a brief introduction to the company's history, we were equipped with safety clothing and allowed to see for ourselves what a "Smart Factory" looks like in reality. Karima Lalee, Matthias Schmitz and Sarah Röllen from the Continuous Improvement Team showed us around the entire filling area and answered our questions about the production processes and machines.

With the scent of detergent in our noses, we were able to see how well-known products such as "Persil Megaperls", "Somat" dishwasher tabs and "Perwoll" liquid laundry detergent, among others, are filled and stacked on pallets, while autonomous floor conveyor vehicles without drivers deliver necessary packaging material to the production lines.

After we had seen the production steps, the plant manager Dr. Rawina Benoit welcomed us back to the training room and answered our students' questions about the challenges of production and digitization in a plant with more than 120 years of history.

Marcel Welz then explained how the Holthausen plant is linked to the Henkel production network online and in real time via a "digital backbone" using state-of-the-art sensor, camera, laser and robot technology. This platform helps to meet increasing customer demands in terms of service and sustainability, while at the same time achieving cost savings and inventory reductions. In addition, the digital backbone allows Henkel plants to benchmark in real time and supports the exchange of best practices.

It was not only the products that convinced our students, but also Henkel as an employer. We hope that this will further intensify the long connection between Henkel and RWTH, and that graduates of our Summer Schools or RWTH in general will become enthusiastic about a career at Henkel. We would like to thank everyone involved for the opportunity to visit the production facility. It was a very inspiring excursion!