Manufacturing Systems and Production Control

R&D Trend 2022 / 2023

Manufacturing without Takt and Assembly Line

The most important argument for data-driven, networked manufacturing lies in its potential to bring flexibility to production. For a long time, there was no alternative to rigid production structures when fast throughput was required. Now they are becoming obsolete. Instead of highly integrated, firmly linked lines, manufacturing experts increasingly favor modular production systems that can be flexibly combined.

The efficiency of serial processes and firmly linked production lines is undisputed. If one process step reliably follows the next, orders are processed in a short period of time. But rigid production structures also have disadvantages. The biggest is that it is costly or even impossible to realize customer-specific special orders. However, these have long been part of everyday life in many companies, even in the classic series production business. Some suppliers operate with 50,000 system products at annual repeat rates of 1.4. 

So much need for agility makes highly integrated systems uneconomical. »High integration is the opposite of agile. Reprogramming integrated systems for customers who need special features is far too time-consuming and expensive,« sums up Dr. Hübert of BIOTRONIK. He is not alone in this assessment. Companies that manufacture a large proportion of their products only once carry out many process steps by hand. Extensive automation is not worthwhile for them; instead, they favor smaller, highly flexible systems technology. 

Networking makes the factory of the future highly flexible

Machine builders and system suppliers are now responding to this demand. »Imagine a factory in which only the floor and ceiling are fixed, the rest is flexible,« says Sven Hamann of Bosch, outlining the factory of the future. »In such a factory there are robots, mobile equipment, manual workstations with operator guidance or reusable standard machines. I can rearrange and reconfigure all of this in a very short time.« In such a production environment, machines are product-agnostic: The same equipment is used to produce different variants of a product – or different products. 

In the flexible factory, the network hub becomes as essential a machine component as the chuck, because production steps are interlinked by information technology. This is a major task since it involves bringing systems into dialog that originate from different manufacturers or use heterogeneous standards. One option among others to achieve this is using IT adapters to open up the machine control system for networking. Ideally, the result is a self-organizing production as is being promoted by Fraunhofer IPK. Here, all manufacturing entities – people, workpieces, machines and tools – communicate and cooperate directly with each other. For example, a workpiece can independently organize its path through production by requesting suitable machining resources. Machining stations offer free capacities or reject them, if their data indicates a need for maintenance. 

Level of automation can vary

The level of automation can vary widely from one company to another. Therefore, there is no universal answer to the question of what Industry 4.0 looks like. Some companies benefit most from digitally supported process control. In the simplest case, such process control can just pass on knowledge from one station to the next – about the type of order, which components belong to it and how they are to be processed in the next step. More autonomous process controls address equipment directly to orchestrate processes. With model-based, modular concepts process steps can be combined into ever new sequences. This makes production variable and customer-specific production or quick reactions to exceptional situations effortless. Last but not least, resilience in the face of crisis situations ist fostered.

For some companies, it will still be worthwhile to fully automate certain parts of their processes. Picking, machine loading or even tool changes are particularly suitable. With AI-based methods of optical recognition, they can be designed efficiently even when product blanks or tool types continuously change. 

Integrating logistics solutions into process management

Comprehensive automated solutions are also a very good option in intraprocess logistics. This is an area that has long been a marginal topic in manufacturing theory. »Up to now, in-process logistics has not generally been understood as part of value creation, but this way of thinking is no longer up to date,« says Prof. Helmut-Joseph Schramm, Vice President International Production BMW Motorrad and a member of our Board of Trustees. After all, anyone who abandons takt and assembly lines needs alternative solutions to ensure that the product gets from A to B in the production process and that the required material is available at every processing station. 

This is where driverless transport systems (AGVs) or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) come into play. They can even be integrated into the process control system – logistics becomes an integral part of the production process. Daimler Truck AG is applying this concept. »In some of our plants, vehicle cabs no longer travel on the assembly line, but on AGVs from one processing station to the next,« reports Dr. Anne-Katrin Tomys-Brummerloh, manager of assembly planning and implementation of innovative technology at Daimler Truck. »The AGV carries the information about which production number it is currently running. When it enters a station, the work order is retrieved there.«

Manufacturing engineers’ toolbox of methods expands

If production lines and other shop floor equipment are flexibly plugged into ever-new processes, the methods and technologies for piloting and validation should also change. Digital twins and virtual commissioning play a crucial role here. They can be used to check whether each machine fits in its intended place when it is rearranged and whether the arrangement makes sense. If a process is reconfigured, it can be ensured that it will run smoothly. This keeps downtime during commissioning and reconfiguration to a minimum. 

All these new ideas are changing the view of what »the production process« encompasses and how it should be designed. Interaction with IT and logistics expands the range of tasks in system design. Experts from different domains must work together much more closely than before. At Fraunhofer IPK, this is already reality. In addition, it is to be expected that in the future digital technologies will become domain tools of production technology just like logistics solutions. 

Our solutions for this topic area

  • Agile process management for flexible production organization
  • Virtual and physical adapters and sensors for networking
  • Modular shop floor IT for synchronization of heterogeneous production systems
  • Intra-process logistics with driverless transport systems
  • Partially autonomous process chains up to self-organizing production
  • Virtual commissioning with digital process, factory and machine twins

Q & A

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Helmut-Joseph Schramm

BMW Group


Thinking about Flexible Production Processes Holistically

R&D Highlights on Manufacturing Systems and Production Control

Our references from the topic area of manufacturing systems and production control show how we make processes more autonomous and which solutions we develop for their piloting and commissioning.

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Setting up assembly lines faster with digital twins

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Autonomous manufacturing of electric drives for industrial applications

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Trainings in Virtual Reality based on virtual commissioning

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Automated machine loading with mobile robots


Agile process management in machine and equipment manufacturing using machine learning

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Automated inspection and replacement system for indexable inserts

Research Service

Application laboratory »Digitally Integrated Production (dip)«