Knowledge and Assistance in Production

R&D Trend 2022 / 2023

Focusing on the Human Being

Even though artificial intelligence and autonomous solutions are increasingly conquering manufacturing, nothing works in production without qualified employees. And these are becoming increasingly hard to recruit against the backdrop of demographic change and a shortage of skilled workers. This makes it all the more important to provide people in production with the best possible support, to transfer their knowledge and to maintain their ability to work for as long as possible.

With raw material shortages, supply chain problems and climate neutrality, industry is currently facing many challenges – but one of the most pressing is the shortage of skilled workers. Without qualified people, the other tasks cannot be tackled either. Automated and autonomous systems can cushion the problem, but not solve it, because: »Every automation system needs skilled personnel to help make key decisions,« says Holger Klempnow, CEO of KleRo GmbH Roboterautomation. »Without this personnel, a production hall cannot be expected to run reasonably in the near future.« One key aspect: The human ability to react flexibly to disruptions and unexpected or new situations is far from being technically replicable, even with AI. Especially in crisis and exceptional situations, employees are therefore a crucial resilience factor.

Against the backdrop of demographic change and a shift in values among younger generations, the problem is not expected to ease in the near future. Creative solutions are therefore needed to recruit, retain and upskill staff, but also to support the existing workforce. It is necessary to increase the attractiveness of jobs in production, by making tasks diverse and allowing workers to make decisions, but also by reducing physical stress. Highly complex, integrated technologies must be made manageable for operators, even if their initial qualifications for handling them are not perfect. And the know-how of process experts must be secured within the company and made accessible to other employees. 

Human-centered, context-sensitive assistance

Data-driven solutions offer a variety of approaches. If manufacturing processes become so complex that average machine operators can no longer identify ideal parameters to set them up with experience alone, interactive assistance systems can help. Based on sensor data or knowledge from specialists, they suggest suitable settings or guide people through the process in a context-sensitive manner. »In doing so, any support should nonetheless use and challenge the intelligence of employees,« says Prof. Schramm, BMW Group. 

If this is not taken into account, SCHOTT also fears humans could feel powerless in the face of the process. »We need employees in the process, because they can react flexibly where a situation exceeds a system’s decision-making capabilities,« summarizes Dr. Trinks. »At the same time, we want to use appropriate systems to support them in performing their tasks to the best of their ability and actively advance processes. We see the cooperative collaboration of employees with assistance systems as an approach in which both sides develop further in a learning process. The creative part and also the responsibility for decisions are currently still clearly on the human side.«  

Direct versus indirect assistance

The large field of assistance systems can be roughly divided into two groups. Indirect assistance operates in the background, while direct assistance involves immediate human-machine interaction. Indirect assistance is essentially selection guidance based on data analysis. To prepare difficult decisions, data from sensors in machines, for example, are intelligently evaluated. The result is a context-sensitive selection of possible options. Direct assistance presents information with models and dashboards in such a way that people can work with it – for example, to optimally set up a process or maintain a system with which they are not familiar down to the last screw. The challenge here is to design assistance in such a way that it can be operated intuitively and neither underestimates nor overwhelmes the person using it. 

At Fraunhofer IPK, we address both types of assistance. Our field of activity ranges from solutions for semantic data networking and interpretation to user assistance systems appropriate to individual situations for a wide variety of applications. Identifying new and used components for assembly preparation or for reusing old parts belongs as much to our portfolio as supporting service personnel in maintenance operations. 

Maintaining health with ergonomics support

As it is becoming increasingly difficult to recruit junior staff for production, industry is undertaking great efforts to design work environments in such a way that experienced personnel can operate in them for a long time. Ergonomically optimized working conditions make a significant contribution to keeping employees in the company well into old age.

In this context, we develop wearable sensor and robot systems for ergonomic and force support that prevent injuries to the musculoskeletal system. Our ­ErgoJack® orthosis uses motion detection sensors to inform wearers when they are moving in an ergonomically critical way. In activities where an er­gonomic posture is not possible – for example when working on objects at overhead level – exosuits for strength support such as PowerGrasp come to aid.

Knowledge management and qualification

The knowledge of process experts is as essential a resource for companies as energy or raw material for products. Making this knowledge available throughout a company requires effective knowledge management solutions. Our Competence Center Knowledge Management is a well-versed and experienced point of contact for this. 

In addition, digitalization and networking in particular, as well as tailoring them to a company’s specific requirements, create an increased need to further develop employees’ skills. Intuitive training methods play an important role here. Technology-oriented training courses as well as serious games and realistic learning factories, in which production management and control methods are taught interactively, enable employees at all hierarchical levels to experience learning content first-hand and develop skills in a targeted manner. Some of our proven formats are already offered virtually and location-independent, others are currently being virtualized. 

Our solutions for this topic area

  • Semantic data structures as a basis for intelligent interpretation
  • Decision preparation on the basis of automated data evaluation
  • Interactive assistance systems with context-sensitive user guidance
  • Ergonomic and strength support with wearable robotics
  • Knowledge and competence management with effective, systematic solutions
  • Serious games and learning factories to qualify for digital transformation

Q & A

Dr.-Ing. Volker Trinks



Operator-independent and Constant Quality through Intelligent Assistance

R&D Highlights on Knowledge and Assistance in Production

Providing people with the best possible support at work in production environments is one of our central concerns. To this end, we research and develop assistance systems as well as qualification methods for changing requirements in industry.

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Intelligent assistance systems for series assembly

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360° machine monitoring

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Exosuit for production and logistics

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With artificial intelligence to a new job profile

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ErgoJack: Smart ergonomics system for exoskeletons


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