Significant Reduction in Lead Times and Revenue Increases Thanks to AI-based Optimization

Push production planning to peak performance with an intelligent and agile APS system

Resilience has been a major topic ever since the pandemic struck. However, the fact that companies often suffer major damage due to minor disruptions is often left unspoken. With the help of the FELIOS APS system by INFORM Software Corporation, machine and plant engineering companies such as Achenbach Buschhütten were not only able to eliminate these problems, but even realized significant reduction of lead times.

In manufacturing, various schedules are interlinked in such a way that the delay of one job leads to delays in many other directly and indirectly linked projects. Thus, disruptions in day-to-day operations, for example, due to bottlenecks on machines, staff shortages or unexpected rush orders, can hardly be considered in isolation. A late arrival of materials not only delays a specific order but affects the entire collective order. On-time performance and customer relations suffer as a result.

"Unexpected, everyday disruptions like these are something most companies in the industry are familiar with," said Justin Newell, COO at Atlanta-based INFORM Software Corporation. "After all, contract and make to order manufacturers aim for customer satisfaction and cost-effective production operations. To achieve this, production planners must make smart decisions quickly, despite complex and dynamic processes." This is where mathematical algorithms, such as those used in Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) systems like FELIOS, can help.

Meeting deadlines despite complexity

Mechanical and plant engineering is a classic example of an industry in which adherence to delivery dates plays an important role. Often, delays result in high contractual penalties. This requires optimized production planning considering all orders, each involving several thousand work steps and hundreds of resources.

Although the trend is toward digitized business processes, a multitude of quickly accessible data alone will not provide companies with the desired resilience or a competitive advantage. Whenever plans change, many possible actions arise. Selecting the best option is a major challenge, especially under critical time pressures and when trying to consider all dependencies.This is exactly where APS systems come in, providing suggestions for action tailor-made to the situation at hand, such as an optimized and realistic manufacturing sequence. Decision-making algorithms and functionalities of FELIOS have been specifically developed to meet the daily challenges in the mechanical and plant engineering sector.

Success story with FELIOS

Image 1: An advanced production plant for manufacturing flat rolled aluminum products with machines and equipment from Achenbach (Source: Achenbach Buschhütten).

This approach has been adopted by Achenbach Buschhütten GmbH & Co. KG in Kreuztal, 80 kilometers east of Cologne, Germany, which also operates a service center in Beeson St. Alliance, Ohio. The systems supplier has long been the world market leader for the manufacturing of machines and production lines for flat rolling and foil slitting of NF metals. An Achenbach high-performance foil rolling mill, for example, is capable of rolling aluminum foil doubled in the final rolling pass at a speed of more than 2,000m/min down to 2 x 4µm material thickness. Next year, the company will look back on 570 years of company history. Usually, Achenbach lines have lead times of up to 12 months.
In the process, the components from around 80 assemblies undergo many work steps and often pass through five or more 'bottleneck machines'.

"In this respect, the APS system provides us with the necessary foresight in the value-adding areas of production and engineering," said Sebastian Groos, CEO at Achenbach. With the introduction of the system around four years ago, which first commenced in mechanical production and then subsequently rolled out to other areas, the company has been able to reduce its lead times by two to three months. The solution lies in the optimized planning quality across all departments, based on algorithms with artificial decision intelligence, which coordinate individual tasks at lightning speed. Human expertise intervenes where the algorithm predicts a problem. Groos commented, "Optimized production planning with FELIOS has helped us to increase our turnover by an impressive 30 percent, while maintaining the same number of employees and the same floor space. Furthermore, we are able to offer our customers shorter throughput times and to achieve our promised delivery times with much greater reliability."

How APS systems work

Conventional ERP systems plan with unlimited capacities in mind. For example, they determine the lead time of individual orders, but cannot dynamically distribute competing orders among available resources. Optimization algorithms, on the other hand, calculate a sequence that aims for the best possible overall result. They analyze all planning-relevant data from the ERP system to generate realistic schedules, taking into account all available resources, capacities and target delivery dates. For example, the calculation can show how many rush orders can be served on time if another order is delayed. Additionally, an APS system also offers the possibility to simulate scenarios: How would a rush order affect the on-time delivery of all orders currently planned in the system? What delivery date can the sales team communicate to the customer based on the current status quo?

"We have achieved a much higher adherence to delivery dates and transparency. As soon as an order is received, we can reliably forecast whether there will be any bottlenecks," confirmed Jochen Steiner, Department Manager Plant Planning & Control at Achenbach."This includes questions such as: 'Are there enough employees available in our engineering departments?', 'Does it make more sense to stock up on certain parts?' or 'What replenishment times should we expect?' All of this can be monitored, and we can react to bottlenecks at an early stage. The APS system can even recommend pre-scheduling another order to utilize existing capacities that have become available due to an interrupted supply chain.

Image 2: Sebastian Groos (left) and Jochen Steiner (right) at the new Buschhütten campus at the Achenbach plant site (

Sustainable into the future

Prepared for the future with processes that also consider ecological efficiency in terms of efficient use of resources and CO2 neutrality, Achenbach expects further growth. "Because of the current trends toward electromobility and mono packaging, there is a high demand for aluminum, which can be processed in world-class quality with rolling mill and slitting lines from Achenbach," said CEO Groos. "Thus, we are currently experiencing a surge in demand, especially in production lines for single-layer rolled ultra-thin battery foils or for aluminum strip as a starting material for recycling-friendly mono packaging. Thanks to the optimized and agile planning with the APS system, we can also serve our customers with maximum reliability and according to schedule.”
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