Fraunhofer IPK

Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology

Involving shop floor staff in production control

A dynamically changeable scheduling control as it is being developed by iWePro produces enormous changes on the shop floor as it shifts responsibility for processes and therefore necessitates adjustments to the activity profiles of certain groups of employees. Shop floor employees are currently usually required to execute a production plan drawn up by production management without deviations. But, in future, they are going to have a decisive say in workflows. Such involvement will require either additional qualifications or intuitive tools that provide support in carrying out the extended tasks. 

The concept employed by iWePro assumes that in a production set-up applying decentralized job shop production teams of employees share responsibility both for a group of machines – for instance, for a certain number of turning or milling machines – and for the process steps associated with these machines. Corresponding excerpts from the machine allocation schedule are individually adapted to their requirements and provided to them directly at their workplaces so that they can at all times be kept up to date about which processing steps for an order have been assigned to which of their machines. But they will not only be able to read the plan, they will also be able to actively intervene. If delays, machine downtimes or other events prevent the plan from being followed, they themselves can change how the machines in their work area are scheduled. 

In order to ensure that such reconfiguration creates as little disruption as possible, employees will be supported by an agent-based assistance system. This system takes account of such factors as the specific order's anticipated completion date, the availability of staff, machine conditions, and upcoming maintenance requirements and costs. Building upon this basis, it will make adjustment suggestions that the production staff can take into account when amending their plans. The system will also take care that any later processing stages or parallel jobs affected by the rescheduling will also be adapted and that all members of staff affected as well as the management level will be informed about the changes. 

Intelligent machine tools deliver a further benefit in the decentralization of process responsibilities. They constitute an important link between scheduling tasks and physical processes. Equipped with sensors, they are able to analyze their own states, anticipate maintenance requirements and report capacities. In addition, virtual machine tools allow all machining operations and tool changes within the flow to be simulated before a new production sequence is commenced – an example of such a process will be presented at the fair by a DMG-Mori virtual machine tool. This will support production staff in assuming production-manager responsibilities.