MTM – Work design productive and safe

"It makes no sense to digitalize poor processes"

Interview with Prof. Dr. Uwe Dombrowski and Prof. Dr. Peter Kuhlang
to mark 10 years of the GPS Symposium

The Institute for Advanced Industrial Management at Braunschweig University of Applied Sciences (IFU) and the German MTM Association, or rather the MTM Institute, are organizing the 10th Braunschweig Symposium for Integrated Production Systems on 14 September 2017. MTMaktuell is using this jubilee to review the successful cooperation arrangement during the past few years and talk to Prof. Dr. Uwe Dombrowski, Head of the IFU (on the left of the photo), and Prof. Dr. Peter Kuhlang, Director of the MTM Institute, as well as look ahead to the upcoming tasks.


The IFU (Institute for Advanced Industrial Management) has been one of the organizers of the GPS Symposium since it was first held in 2008. Why did you focus your atttention on the Integrated Production System (GPS) and why did you do so at this time?

Prof. Dombrowski:
That was the time when the lean wave had been set in motion and lean was gaining ground in other sectors than just the automobile industry. We discovered – in discussions with small and medium-sized enterprises too – that support in the form of information and communications are required to introduce the methods. Alongside this annual event, the VDI Special Committee on Integrated Production Systems is also dedicated to this subject. The results are presented at the symposiums too.


How long do you think the Integrated Production System (GPS) will still be a hot topic for German industry?

Prof. Dombrowski: For at least the next ten years. We’ve now achieved a penetration level of more than 80 percent in the production and assembly departments, where we launched the GPS as a framework. The focus in the future will be more on indirect departments like development, sales and service. The major task therefore involves establishing the GPS comprehensively within entire corporations. An industrial working group consisting of ten or twelve corporations has already successfully transferred the methodical procedure in GPS to the development field. This best practice solution can be read about in the conference publication on the 10th GPS Symposium – a jubilee edition – in addition to many other examples.

Prof. Kuhlang: I’m convinced that the GPS will remain a long-term issue, at least for large and medium-sized corporations. We now need to fine-tune the system in production and roll it out to indirect departments related to production. Sectors beyond automotive and engineering – like the textile, process, services and insurance industries – will also recognize the benefits of a methodical framework and adapt it to their needs. Digitalization will also be a pillar supporting success. Time will tell to what degree small and medium-sized enterprises continue to pursue the topic of GPS. I think this is largely a question of resources too.



The German MTM Association is a co-organizer of the GPS Symposium and is also co-issuing the jubilee publication. GPS and MTM – is this a success story?

Prof. Dombrowski:
Definitely. The use of MTM as a methodological standard is an important precondition for successfully implementing Integrated Production Systems – particularly with regard to designing work stations to make them suitable for older and aging employees too. On the VDI Special Committee for GPS, we’ve jointly argued the case that ergonomics and health and safety at work should be included in the VDI Directive 2870 as the ninth, equally important design principle for GPS. By the way, Directive 2871 deals with the topic of lean leadership, i.e. management in Integrated Production Systems. The general focus of the following Directive 2872 logically deals with lean enterprises, which should be viewed as a comprehensive coordination mechanism. This is necessary in order to efficiently create figures for the different stakeholders in a corporation through the use of lean principles.

Prof. Kuhlang:
Yes, it’s definitely a success story. Work that takes ergonomics into account has to be systematically anchored in the GPS. The task of MTM is to develop the content for this ninth design field. The new MTM-HWD® process building block system, which combines the methodical and ergonomic process description in just one stage for the first time, plays a special role here. MTM-HWD® embodies the change in understanding, perception and the use of MTM as a process language for modeling human work in a way that no other MTM building block system does. In the light of aging workforces, it’s essential in all sectors to minimize health risks at workplaces and maintain the performance level of employees even in their later working life. The comprehensive work system design with MTM-HWD® helps corporations cope with this challenge. By the way, there’s a special chapter in the jubilee publication devoted to the subject of “MTM and ergonomics.”


What will be important with regard to GPS in the future?

Prof. Dombrowski:
The knowledge about GPS strongly focused on production at the beginning. This naturally related to the fact that work plans exist there, in which it is possible to visualize the process chain well. I personally rank the potential that GPS has in the development field higher than in production. The second point is the subject of Industry 4.0 or the implementation of Industry 4.0 applications. We need to remember that Industry 4.0 is not an IT project. If corporations want to be successful with Industry 4.0, they will definitely have to establish a process-oriented form of organization.

Prof. Kuhlang: It does not make any sense to digitalize poor processes. In order to be successful with the process of digital transformation, corporations must first design their processes and the work of human beings well – and MTM helps them do this. Our cooperation with the IFU opens the door for us to the structured world of systematic corporate design with Integrated Production Systems – and the IFU obtains from us methods, which open up new perspectives for GPS. As a result, we complement each other – and also present the results regularly at the symposiums.


The 2017 GPS Symposium deals with “Lean Enterprise 4.0 – standards as the success factor for digital transformation” – which topics will the GPS Symposium in Braunschweig have on its agenda in 2027?

Prof. Dombrowski:
The Integrated Production System now needs to reach far more corporations. If they don’t have this kind of framework, it will be very hard for corporations to even identify the potential of Industry 4.0. The sense of insecurity is widespread at the moment and resources are limited too. In my view, it’s also wrong just to talk about digitalization – after all, we’ve been doing that since the 1960s. The issue now is much more about self-organized, digital networking. This is all about initiating the process of change, i.e. digital transformation, and finding the right course for your own corporation. The most important preconditions here are the corporation’s process orientation, joint actions by engineers and computer specialists – and the implementation and ongoing development of the framework. Generally, it will be possible to make use of GPS where there are also benefits and value added for human beings.



By the way, talking about people. What do you believe their role will be in Industry 4.0?


Prof. Dombrowski: Human beings have skills that computers don’t have. But they need support, e.g. through applications, because they bear the main responsibility. On the system side, two or three solutions are shown, but human beings always make the final decision. In the end, they activate the “approval button.” We’ve empowered people with lean to enable them to think in a business-like manner – we now need to treat them accordingly and provide them with the qualifications to match this.

Prof. Kuhlang:
The ongoing process of digitalization and automation will also automatically bring changes regarding the requirements for manual assembly work. Fully and partly automated assembly systems require a greater understanding of the complete system when it comes to fine-tuning and monitoring the systems or eliminating faults. This means processing an increasing amount of information from digital assistance systems for workers in manual assembly processes. They therefore need to be prepared to integrate the new technologies in their everyday working situations.

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