Smart Celebration

More than five years after its grand opening, the director of TRUMPF’s Smart Factory discusses the past, present and future of connected manufacturing


I n 2017, TRUMPF Inc. hosted its Smart Factory grand opening in Hoffman Estates, Ill. Since then, the heart and soul of that facility – linking people, machines, storage technology, automation and software to connect the entire sheet metal process chain – has become the gold standard for the manufacturing industry. It has also become the key to solving persistent labor challenges.

The grand opening event in 2017 focused on TRUMPF’s vision for the future of manufacturing. Within the stunning new 50,000-sq.-ft. facility, rustic wooden accent walls and an unobstructed view of the woods surrounding the building skillfully juxtaposed the cutting-edge technology that was making the Smart Factory hum inside. It was – and still is – an impressive example of what’s possible when the tenets of Industry 4.0 are fully embraced.

During the event, Nicola LeibingerKammüller, who is the president and chairwoman of the managing board of TRUMPF SE + Co. KG, described the productive manufacturing environment that can be made possible through the company’s Industry 4.0 philosophy.

“Our aim for the future is to reduce machine downtimes to zero, to always have sufficient material on hand, and for all systems to operate at optimum capacity and permit remote operation,” Leibinger-Kammüller said. “We also want to be able to process our customer’s requests as quickly and affordably as possible, no matter what degree of customization they require.”

The conclusion of her address to attendees was simple yet poignant. It was also accurate. TRUMPF had, indeed, set a new era of manufacturing in motion.

“My message today is this: We came here to join together with our American customers in embarking on a new era in production marked by digital connectivity.”

Fast-forward to today

According to a press release issued prior to the grand opening, TRUMPF’s Smart Factory facility was the first of its kind. In total, $15 million was invested for the construction of the building while another $15 million was invested in the equipment required to connect the “entire sheet metal process chain – from the initial order for a sheet metal component to its design, manufacture and delivery.”

Considering that the directly adjacent states contain around 40 percent of the country’s entire sheet metal working industry, Chicago was an easy choice for its location of the TRUMPF Smart Factory.

To mark the five years that have passed since the Smart Factory first opened, an interview with Kartik Iyer, the facility’s director, was published in TRUMPF’s customer magazine, TRUe. In it, Iyer talked about the past, present and future of connected manufacturing, and Shop Floor Lasers is honored to republish it in its entirety.

TRUe: Congratulations on celebrating your fifth anniversary! It is not surprising that TRUMPF, as an innovative industry leader, was the first machine tool manufacturer to build a Smart Factory in Hoffman Estates, Ill. What do you think inspired TRUMPF to build the Smart Factory near Chicago and what was it like when it opened?

Kartik Iyer is the director of TRUMPF’s Smart Factory in Hoffman Estates, Ill. To celebrate the facility’s five-year anniversary, he reflects on its past, discusses its present and looks forward to the future.

Iyer: Even though I wasn’t here – I’ve only been the director of the Smart Factory since 2021 – I think the reason TRUMPF first built the Smart Factory here was to give customers an opportunity to experience the entire digitized and connected sheet metal process chain – from the initial order for a sheet metal component to its design, manufacture and delivery. And I think TRUMPF chose to build a Smart Factory here in Hoffman Estates because it is so close to Chicago, which is at the center of the North American market for sheet metal processing. About 40 percent of the entire sheet metal processing industry is based in directly neighboring states.

The Smart Factory is a beautiful building, and when it opened five years ago, I have to imagine it was just as impressive. People must have marveled at the wood and metal structures, just as they do today. It is hard not to be impressed by this 50,000-sq.-ft. building filled with the latest automated production technology!

How has the Smart Factory changed since it opened its doors?

It may look a little different, but the Smart Factory’s main goal of developing Industry 4.0 solutions for the sheet metal industry remains the same. The types of problems we are solving, the level of automation we have developed and the features in the software we offer have come a long way since we opened. The machines are different, too. All but one machine in the Smart Factory has gone through an update or been replaced by a new model with additional features for increased automation, throughput and productivity.

One particularly exciting change has been to the TruLaser Center – the world’s first fully autonomous part sorting laser center was upgraded from a 6-kW to a 12-kW laser and has a new automation strategy to better handle scrap for lights-out production. Our TruBend Center 7030 has evolved to include an automatic loading system and part manipulator that eliminates the need for an operator to manually bend the part. We’ve expanded our welding portfolio into cobot-based arc welding solutions. Recently, we have added solutions to track parts on the shop floor and AGVs, or driver-less forklifts, that move material from one operation to the next based on the priority of orders.

From its first opening day until now, the goal of the Smart Factory is to provide a space to advise and train customers on the introduction of digitally connected production solutions.

Today, we focus on managing the logistics of orders using those autonomous forklifts, intelligent docking stations and bar code scanners. We have revamped our MES [manufacturing execution system] software to the next-generation platform called Oseon, which offers solutions that can grow with the customer. In the last five years, the Smart Factory has really advanced in the Industry 4.0 journey with a focus on automating operations, such as the integration of the cutting and bending processes or ICB systems.

People love to tour TRUMPF’s Smart Factory. How many people have visited the Smart Factory since it opened and what do you think draws them here?

Since it opened five years ago, more than 8,000 external visitors from 1,800 different companies have come to Chicago to see the Smart Factory. The number of visitors is impressive, but so is the growing diversity of visitors we have seen. Certainly, we’ve witnessed a wider range of customers looking into Smart Factory solutions. It’s not just large OEMs who want to automate; a lot more job shops who had not looked seriously before at automation are visiting.

I think customers have really started to embrace the concept of connected autonomous manufacturing. Living in an age in which so many things are digitally connected has made it easier for people to understand the concept of connectivity. They can appreciate the need for it and are open to adopting these solutions in their factories. Initially, customers made visits to understand what we were presenting and to grasp the scope of what a Smart Factory could do for them. As we evolved, our first real projects were completed, and customers could experience and relate to the actual connected Smart Factories.

Over the past five years we have seen customers’ lot sizes decrease ideas and make the leap to digitally connected production that increases their productivity.

The Smart Factory’s so-called “Skywalk” spans the length of the 180-ft.-long hall, emphasizing the facility’s single, overall system.

Consulting is a large part of what you do at the Smart Factory. Tell me about the customers who seek out the help of Smart Factory consultants and why they turn to TRUMPF. How do we help transform their plans from concept to reality?

Yes, Smart Factory consulting is an important part of what we do. We have been handling about 40 projects a year, but with the expansion of our experienced consulting team, we expect that to double. Many people are surprised to learn that it isn’t just big companies that seek out Smart Factory consultants.

Actually, it is more common for smaller companies to turn to us since they do not have the staff onsite to help them evaluate manufacturing challenges and continuous improvement projects. Smaller companies find it cost effective to use our consultants to conduct value stream mapping, multi-moment studies and production analysis which they would never have had time to do otherwise.

But of course, larger OEMs work with us on consulting projects, too. Sometimes they just need to get a different perspective from that of their manufacturing engineers who might not be able to see the problem as an outsider. Companies, both big and small, come to us for help in solving problems related to material flow, production capacity, programming bottlenecks, too much work in progress, scheduling challenges, prioritizing issues and more.

The production hall at the Smart Factory measures 180 ft. in length and features a central storage system to supply the machine tools with material.

Since many companies tend to face similar challenges, the TRUMPF experts can quickly identify problems and suggest suitable solutions. TRUMPF’s Smart Factory consultants assist customers in analyzing their businesses and optimizing processes. Or, they can help set up a new production facility and navigate the path to the right connectivity solution. Consultants help guide companies along the roadmap of the steps in the process – create, plan, implement and monitor – to transform smart factory concepts from plan to reality.

First, they spend a week at the customer site to understand the current production shop floor and material flow. Then, they conduct swim lane process analysis with various stakeholders and identify non-value-added operations that can be eliminated or automated. Next, they perform multi-moment studies that record machine utilization, and they analyze customer production data to simulate it across potential machines that can solve customer problems. Of course, they also develop an analysis of the return on investment, which gives the customer an understanding of investment payback.

What’s great about the services is that they can be scaled to meet the needs of the customer. We can start with a very generic analysis of production in the fabrication shop and then deep dive into specific areas that are identified as opportunities for improvement.

Where are we headed? What is next for the Smart Factory?

I believe that smart factories are driving the future and the fourth industrial revolution. I am confident they will continue to strengthen the competitiveness of flexible sheet metal fabrication in North America. At the TRUMPF Smart Factory, our mission is to digitally connect production technology to make it even more efficient, precise and flexible. In doing so, we want to make manufacturing more efficient in its upstream and downstream processes. This is how we build the industrial world of tomorrow. We are the market and technology leaders in machine tools and lasers for industrial manufacturing, and work with our innovations in almost every sector. Our products and software solutions are enabling technology that paves the way to the smart factory, allowing us to implement high-tech processes for industrial applications today and into the next generation.


Get industry news first
Subscribe to our magazines
Your favorite
under one roof