Intelligent machines for tomorrow's factory

Jun 05, 2014
Cooperation of intelligent machines: The robot gripper hands over a workpiece to a mobile platform that moves it to the next stage. Credit: Irina Westermann

Mass production of industrial goods, such as furniture, clothing or ball pens, is inexpensive. In the future, even small series of individualized products might be manufactured rapidly and efficiently by means of intelligent machines that communicate with each other. To this end, researchers of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) coordinate the SkillPro EU research project that is aimed at finding innovative solutions to considerably reduce changeover times in the production process.

Having completed one order, manufacture of any new product ordered mostly requires a modification of the production process. When manufacturing small series, preparation, setup, and programming of the machine park often take much longer than manufacture proper. "Machines equipped with additional intelligence and communicating with each other are expected to significantly reduce the changeover time," says engineer Thomas Maier, Managing Director of KIT's Institute for Information Management in Engineering (IMI). A machine equipped with camera sensors, for instance, can recognize any workpiece even in case of changing products. Having examined the workpiece's shape and position, the machine can decide how to apply its gripper or suction caps and where to place the workpiece. Depending on the product, machines having gripping, welding, or bonding skills can determine their next task or production step. They "communicate" with neighboring machines and know whether they have to ask for a mobile robot to transport the product to the next workstation or the shipping department of the company.

Small and medium-sized enterprises in particular are to benefit from the intelligent production system. It allows for the low-cost production of niche of variable shapes or fits. "The companies can offer individualized and react flexibly to fluctuations in demand," Maier says. Quicker execution of small-series production will strengthen European industry production.

In the plug & produce process developed under the project, machines autonomously adjust for the product to be manufactured. The solution concept is based mainly on new developments in computer science. Prior to the start of production proper, a specially developed computer program calculates in which assembly line the orders are executed most efficiently. "Additional machines or technical capabilities can be integrated into the existing park with a small expenditure, as they inform the system about which part of the production process they will accomplish," Maier explains. The production sequence simulated in the planning phase and the real are displayed on a screen.

Robots and tools that communicate with each other and combine in variable factory lines within shortest periods of time are major elements of a smart factory. The factories of "Industry 4.0" combine production engineering with information technology. Under the SkillPro project, computer scientists cooperate with electrical engineers, business engineers, and mechanical engineers.

On the part of KIT, the Institute for Information Management in Engineering and the Institute for Anthropomatics and Robotics (IAR) with its Research Laboratory for Intelligent Process Control and Robotics (IPR) are involved in the project. "Existing plug & produce approaches are improved with the help of knowledge about the skills of new devices and their effects on the entire production system in terms of workflows and economic aspects," explains SkillPro coordinator Professor Björn Hein, who conducts research at the IPR.

Explore further: A virtual factory you can feel

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

A virtual factory you can feel

Nov 29, 2013

Industrial processes have been mechanized, electrified and digitized. In the next step they become intelligent. However, the lines between virtual and real worlds become only slowly blurred. At EuroMold in ...

Mobile robot to boost aerospace production

May 13, 2014

We don't have to look too far into the future to see a time when mobile robots and people will be working side-by-side in production facilities. In fact, for the aerospace manufacturing industry, this scenario ...

Efficient lightweight motors for electric vehicles

Jul 22, 2013

Large-scale implementation of electric mobility requires low-cost and flexible production of efficient electric drives. New lightweight construction concepts may reduce vehicle weight and, hence, energy consumption during ...

The ecological badminton robot (w/ video)

Jan 30, 2013

A robot to play with! A childhood's dream has now come true for researchers at the Flanders' Mechatronics Technology Centre (FMTC) in Belgium. Wim Symens and his team pioneered the development of the first robot ever to play ...

E3-production—sustainable manufacturing

Mar 20, 2014

Scarce and expensive raw materials, rising energy prices, climate protection and demographic shifts leave industrial production with a lot to contend with in the coming years. In the 'E3-production' lighthouse ...

Recommended for you

Greater safety and security at Europe's train stations

Sep 01, 2014

When a suspicious individual fleas on a bus or by train, then things usually get tough for the police. This is because the security systems of the various transportation companies and security services are ...

Fingerprints for freight items

Sep 01, 2014

Security is a top priority in air freight logistics but screening procedures can be very time consuming and costly. Fraunhofer researchers intend to boost efficiency with a new approach to digital logistics, ...

On the way to a safe and secure smart home

Sep 01, 2014

A growing number of household operations can be managed via the Internet. Today's "Smart Home" promises efficient building management. But often the systems are not secure and can only be retrofitted at great ...

DIY glove-based tutor indicates muscle-memory potential

Aug 31, 2014

A senior editor at IEEE Spectrum worked on a DIY project that enabled his 11-year-old son to improve his touch typing by use of a vibrating glove. His son was already "pretty quick on the keyboard," said ...

User comments : 0