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Q&A: How Flex’s lighthouse factory is leading Industry 4.0

As the rate of technological innovation across the industry continues to push sites to advance, Flex’s François Barbier explores how the company’s Lighthouse factory is leading the industry 4.0 charge and what it means to employees and customers.

 

What was your reaction when you heard that Flex’s Althofen, Austria factory had been admitted into the World Economic Forum’s Global Lighthouse Network?

From our local employees to our global team, an overwhelming pride rippled throughout the organization when our Althofen factory was named a Lighthouse facility. We put an incredible amount of preparation into the process. Not only did we collaborate closely with World Economic Forum, but there were years of behind-the-scenes work from our team, testing, implementing, and utilizing advanced industry 4.0 tools that help improve throughput, quality, safety, and sustainability.

However, in addition to the celebration comes massive responsibility moving forward. We are now among a select group of companies whose manufacturing innovation has been designated as an example for industry peers (and other Flex sites) on how technology can help shape an improved, more sustainable future.

 

What most impresses you about our Althofen site?

Althofen is a unique site for Flex. In addition to our core manufacturing business, we have design capabilities, operations, billing, support, and teams specializing in industrial, medical, and other key focus areas for Flex. So, it’s essentially a mini-ecosystem that represents the broader Flex footprint.

Beyond that, the site takes all the promise of industry 4.0 and puts it into production. The site leverages LISA – a virtual assistance system that supports line operators by detecting quality issues and halting the production lines. Althofen also has real-time, end-to-end visibility into the supply chain to help overcome complexity, thanks to Pulse. And the factory utilizes integrated material management and automation to provide just-in-time materials and reduce line-side stock to free up production space.

The most impressive use of technology, though, is the site’s global digitization. The team has integrated data from machines, optical analytics systems, and other sources to create real-time dashboards that drive faster decision-making and boost performance across lines. Linking devices together to communicate and increase visibility is a promising advancement for Flex – and the industry.

 

What does a Lighthouse distinction mean for Flex as a company?

A Lighthouse designation validates all the hard work our employees have endured to make our Althofen factory a massive success. Years of work and learnings across our 100 sites were leveraged to make the factory one of the world’s elite manufacturing sites. It’s been inspiring to see how the news has spread across teams, resulting in pride and satisfaction. Those feelings have also extended to our partners and suppliers, who are proud to work with a best-in-class organization.

 

What does this news mean for Flex customers?

By design, Flex is a company that sits behind some of the world’s most well-known healthcare, automotive, and communications organizations. These brands trust us to source, supply, support, and manufacture products that create value and improve people’s lives.

The Global Lighthouse Network news from the World Economic Forum helps increase the visibility of our work and provides current and future customers with well-known, third-party recognition that we’re operating at a world-class level – something that less than 100 other organizations can claim.

The enhanced visibility also means that our own customers are pushing Flex to bring Lighthouse status to regions in which they produce goods. This push is part of the responsibility I mentioned earlier, and it has driven us to implement a thoughtful strategy and plan for additional Lighthouse nominations.

 

What is our roadmap for bringing Flex facilities into the industry 4.0 world so that each site we operate meets the rigor and excellence of the Global Lighthouse Network?

Althofen is just the first step in our Lighthouse journey. We have countless sites worldwide that leverage advanced manufacturing technology in every facet of their operations. However, it’s not a process that can be rushed. We know what it takes, have a proven roadmap, and learned a great deal from this experience. We will continue to share learnings from Althofen and other technologically advanced sites across our ecosystem as we execute our vision of having Flex Lighthouse factories in each geographical region across the world.

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