Newsletter 1/2020

Process automation at Continental in Shanghai

4flow supports Continental in the evaluation and implementation of RPA

Robotic process automation (RPA) is a relatively new but rapidly evolving technology. In a successful pilot, Continental Automotive Holding Co., Ltd. in Shanghai and 4flow, selected and implemented processes suitable for automation with RPA. Thanks to the successful implementation of RPA, efficiency for the automated processes was increased while the error rate was lowered, which ultimately resulted in reduced costs.

As a globally operating automotive supplier that produces parts including electronic brake systems, body electronics, and electronic drivers and offers after-sales services, Continental is among the digital leaders in its industry. As a driver of innovation, it also strives to lead in other technology areas. Working intensively with RPA gives the company a leading advantage in knowledge on the technology and of course more stable and efficient processes help to secure an edge in a climate of international competition and increasingly complex supply chains.

Process automation in the future

While the topics of digitization and automation are ever-present, robots for process automation are still uncommon. RPA, however, is on the rise as a technological approach in which robot software replaces humans in performing repetitive, rule-based processes. Its potential in logistics and supply chain management is enormous. "4flow has already successfully implemented robotic process automation for several customers. We are familiar with the technology and see the positive results that can be achieved with relatively little effort. We are therefore certain that the automation of processes using RPA in logistics and supply chain will progress significantly in the years to come”, said Soeren Hagen, partner at 4flow and head of 4flow’s office in Shanghai, China.

In logistics there are many repetitive tasks that generate a lot of manual effort which, on account of their monotony, are prone to error. This can include master data and parameter maintenance, notifications, booking, assigning, ordering, scheduling or creating reports. Robot software can take on these tasks, while increasing the speed of processing and reducing the rate of error. Employees in turn, are freed from repetitive routine tasks and can devote themselves to value-adding tasks.

Small effort, large benefits

Until now, automation efforts have not been successful mainly because the process of transferring data into a leading system is too expensive or not possible. RPA, in contrast, interacts with the existing heterogeneous system landscape where it can be seamlessly embedded. The effort is usually quite low, and the return on investment (ROI) is achieved quickly. In such a favorable cost-benefit ratio, Continental also recognizes the great strength of RPA.

Low complexity with the greatest possible savings potential – these were the criteria by which Continental and 4flow prioritized the jointly identified potential use cases. In a detailed evaluation, the individual implementation effort for design, modeling and testing was first estimated and then calculated against personnel expenses – which could be saved. Based on the ROI analysis that followed, two of the identified use cases were selected for the joint pilot project.

ROI achieved in less than six months

The first use case involved monthly invoice verification, with the robot comparing invoiced items against a price list and – upon encountering a deviation – automatically requesting the relevant service provider to recheck. The second use case involved handling surcharge claims. The robot verified whether the category and amount in the system matched the details on the claim form, automatically correcting them where necessary.

For the two use cases, 4flow modeled the RPA software and successfully implemented it after an intensive test phase. In doing this, first the as-is situation and individual tasks chosen for automation were documented and standardized, then the target process was defined and programmed. Once this was completed, the resulting robot software was tested with real data and then put into operation. The pilot project was completed with the handover of all documents including a comprehensive operating manual, and RPA training for Continental employees. For both use cases, the ROI was realized in less than six months.

Go-live within days

The entire project, from evaluating the potential to successful implementation, was completed within days – and this included the development of a roadmap to be used for the remaining use cases. After only two weeks from the start of the project, it was possible to increase the efficiency of automated processes by more than 20 percent. In addition, awareness about the larger topic of process efficiency was increased and transparency was improved.

"RPA exceeded our expectations. Together with 4flow, we carried out a first pilot with little investment in time or money and after only two weeks, were able to significantly save costs and increase process quality and speed. The investment quickly paid for itself, and now we continue to benefit from the savings and knowledge advantage”, said James Jian, Head of Transportation, Packaging and Warehousing at Continental. Based on these convincing results, Continental is planning another rollout.

Authors: YUAN ZHANG and XUEWEI QIN, 4flow consulting

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