Fraunhofer IPK

Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology

Process Automation and Robotics

Today, production automation is no longer governed solely by economic considerations. Instead, sustainable use of resources and the effects of demographic change are becoming key priorities. The Process Automation and Robotics department is tackling these challenges using intelligent control systems as well as advanced robot technology.

Automation as we know it is facing great challenges: ecological aspects and the efficient use of resources are playing an increasingly important role in the development of production processes and systems. At the same time, differing customer preferences are leading to a wide range of variants but a low number of pieces per variant – a situation that requires flexible production methods. The complexity of the procedures associated with these changes can be reduced by increasing the involvement of human cognitive and fine motor skills in the production process. The effects of demographic change on the labor market also need to be taken into account.

Solutions to this conundrum can be found in new, IT-based ­automation technology, such as intelligent control systems, and advanced robotics. We have over 30 years of experience in this field. Our spectrum of expertise ranges from process modeling and simulation tools and innovative kinematics systems with new drive and control solutions, through to superordinate process control systems and technology for supporting operating personnel. Our specialties include force-controlled robot systems and human-robot cooperation. In addition to production applications, our developments are also used in handicrafts, medicine and rehabilitation as well as in the service sector.

Robots with feeling

Advanced control systems and sensors enable robots to adapt independently to changes in their environmental conditions. We develop force and compliance control systems that allow them to react to deviations from the preset geometry or process – whether these are caused by the robot itself, the work piece or the work environment. Upgrading robots to »feeling« machines opens doors to new areas of application, such as assembly and testing tasks, where direct human contact was previously required to guide the movement of objects.

Human-centered automation with COBOTs

Where the capabilities of full automation are pushed to the limit, the potential of human-centered automation is just beginning. Instead of imitating human abilities, this approach aims to provide the best possible support for them. This is the objective behind cooperative robots (COBOTs). These machines relieve human operators of physically strenuous tasks, while granting them full control of movement. As a result, we get automation systems of significantly reduced complexity that allow for quick training and cost-effective full system solutions.

Machining robots

Industrial robots are increasingly taking on tasks that were previously the domain of machine tools or specialized industrial machines. We are carrying out research into robot-based milling, grinding and polishing. In addition to the manufacture of new parts, we are also focusing on repair processes, which are particularly demanding in terms of procedure and process adaptivity. We are also promoting the increased use of robots in natural stone processing applications, both as a means of supporting stone-working machines and as a semi-­automated, power-assisted system for direct interaction with the stone sculptor. Analyzing the potential uses and limits of robots in machining tasks is one of our specialities.

Process optimization in complex systems

Recognizing interdependencies is an essential part of a holistic optimization process. However, in networked installations with a variety of heterogeneous individual systems – from the machines to the IT infrastructure – it also represents a huge challenge. We provide several different types of support for this process, including tools that use data mining methods in production. Among other things, they can analyze the energy efficiency of production systems (energy data mining).