22 May, 2022

An intelligent move

22 March, 2017

This edition of Hydraulics & Pneumatics includes a Preview of Hannover Messe; 2017’s main event which this year will feature the theme ‘Integrated industry – creating value‘. This theme of course points strongly in the direction of Industry 4.0 – an area of technological innovation that is increasingly transforming the manufacturing and engineering landscape; moving from being a visionary concept embracing many aspirational ideals to becoming a tangible reality in more and more working environments. This is certainly turning into the age of the smart factory. Intelligent manufacturing, for example, is a truly fascinating – some might even go as far as to say awe-inspiring – area of development. Take the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen, Germany, for example, which is developing workflows in a way that could be a real game-changer. The Institute is currently progressing the idea of a production workflow that could develop flexibly – each part deciding for itself the best route through production.

IPT makes the point that, currently, the norm is for machines to produce parts in networked, pre-programmed production runs: pieces are turned, milled and measured in a set order. But what happens when a machine fails or a customer changes its order? Production has to be re-configured, which is time-consuming and expensive. With this in mind, IPT is looking at an alternative methodology. Instead of a central control program issuing commands, the workflow would develop flexibly, each part deciding for itself the best route through production.

This may sound fanciful and an idea that is far from being realised. However, developers in Fraunhofer are developing just such a system. It is called ‘Service-Oriented Architecture for Adaptive and Networked Production’ and functions similar to an automobile navigation system that uses current data to determine the best route in real time. Each part carries information regarding the next production stage; which machine will be called into operation is purposely left undecided. Only when a production stage is pending does the system select a machine from those that are readily available. Each part bears a QR-Code identifying it as a unique entity.

IPT explains that the software remembers what was done to each part at each production stage; for example, ‘Hole is drilled with machine parameter A and tool X’. A digital twin emerges from this history, displaying at any time where its physical counterpart is in the production process. The Institute explains that digital twins are especially valuable to manufacturers of a wide variety of goods because updating or changing a production run does not require a system overhaul. The ‘Smart Manufacturing Network’ manages the digital twin, always analysing and reusing its process data to improve process robustness and product quality. Michael Kulik, project leader at Fraunhofer working on the software development, said that networking machines with parts will enable companies to produce one-off products in the future – production runs of one.

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