Sebastian Thiede is working on smart and sustainable factories of the future
Simply put, Sebastian Thiede is working on developing factories of the future. ‘My focus is on manufacturing systems,’ says the professor at the University of Twente. ‘That means I’m not just looking at one single process in factories, but at the whole system. We need a holistic approach to plan and run a factory – this covers all facets of manufacturing process chains but also other interacting aspects like energy supply, air-conditioning, building layouts, and human resources. I aim to develop smart manufacturing solutions and ensure that our future factories are sustainable in all senses of the word – from the economic but also the environmental and social point of view. Advanced digital technologies, methods and tools are key enablers to achieve that.’
Sustainable manufacturing is a topic that professor Thiede is particularly passionate about and which he highlights in his research. ‘When I say I focus on sustainability, I really mean it,’ he says. ‘I want to bring sustainability into the normal planning and operation of factories, it should not be an afterthought. We need to find efficient ways for using available energy and resources and for including renewable energy sources. I’m not going to lie: When it comes to environmental sustainability, manufacturing is currently a big part of the problem. But that also means it can and needs to be a big part of the solution.’
The same is true for the social perspective, which is addressed in Thiede’s recent project funded by NWO. ‘This particular research focuses on human-centred smart factories,’ he explains. ‘We aim to design manufacturing that promotes wellbeing of workers. We want to make factories “good” instead of just “less bad”. Using digital solutions, such as adaptive work stations, we’d like to reduce both physical and mental stress of workers and contribute to their health.’
Another example of an ongoing challenge in manufacturing is the increasing individualisation of products. In many sectors, customized products are needed. New cars or machines are preconfigured and built to order, for instance. ´We are no longer talking about mass production here but about the need for highly flexible and scalable manufacturing systems, which naturally leads to new and complex engineering challenges.’
Looking for innovative ways to solve current and future manufacturing challenges covers a variety of technological and methodological fields of action. ‘My work is very multidisciplinary and naturally involves strong interaction with many colleagues,’ says Thiede. Model-based approaches, e.g. based on machine learning or agent-based simulation, in combination with up-to-date data from the shop-floor play a key role for developing innovative digital solutions for planning and operation manufacturing systems and whole factories.
As Sebastian Thiede says himself, he aims at combining research with industrial practice. Most of his projects are conducted in collaboration with companies and address a wide range of application areas such as part manufacturing, mechatronic products, automotive or food. Special interest is also on the production of high-tech and sustainability oriented products such as batteries . In this context he is strongly involved in the Twente Centre for Advanced Battery Technologies, and he is also actively involved in promoting smart and sustainable manufacturing systems for future-oriented products which is one of the focus areas of the University of Twente, as well as the region. ‘I’d like to push the topic in the East of the Netherlands. Manufacturing is a key sector here and creating an ecosystem with strong links between research, education and industry is quite promising,’ says Thiede. ‘My ultimate goal, however, is to promote holistic approach to manufacturing across different application domains.’
Professor Thiede’s teaching is naturally in line with his research. He teaches courses on smart industry and manufacturing systems and is also involved in the upcoming Smart and Sustainable Industry Master track for Mechanical Engineering. ‘I try to bring research and education closer together,’ says Thiede. ‘My main goal is for students to understand the importance of holistic approach to manufacturing, and be able to plan and operate the whole system of a factory. Most of all, I want students to experience what they are studying. I believe in the concept of learning factories, where students can see and feel everything they have been learning but also where the development of new ideas is facilitated.’
Sebastian Thiede is Professor of Manufacturing Systems at the Faculty of Engineering Technology, University of Twente. He also serves as a Scientific Board Member at the Fraunhofer Innovation Platform at the University of Twente. Prior to starting his position at the UT in 2020, he worked as the Head of Sustainable Manufacturing research group at the Institute of Machine Tools and Production Technology of Technische Universität Braunschweig, where he also acquired his doctoral degree in 2011.
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