Fraunhofer IPK

Institute for Production Systems and Design Technology

Industrie 4.0 – flexible transparent manufacturing

Fraunhofer IPK at HM Trade fair 2016: The exhibit at a glance

Industrie 4.0 promises mostly one thing: Great flexibility in production. In the future it will be possible to adapt production to ever-changing versions of products and processes and still keep costs stable. Ideally, developments will even allow small and smallest batch sizes to be realized without causing production costs to explode. 

The key to these developments is to be found in networked information and communications technologies: In the factory of the future, all entities of production – from people through workpieces to machines and tools – will be connected by modern ICT, thus being able to communicate and cooperate directly. At the same time, production-related information will be available in real-time and can be presented, viewed and exchanged anywhere within the plant as tasks and situations demand. 

Such systems will allow production to be organized differently in such a way that it will break open rigid manufacturing structures. Staff at all levels of the plant – from company management through production scheduling to the shop floor – can be informed about order data and process plans in a more comprehensive and effective way than ever before and may be involved in the management of production flows with the aid of intelligent tools. 

At Hannover Messe 2016, Fraunhofer IPK will show how production may be structured more flexibly on this basis using the example of gear production. Gears are presently manufactured in firmly linked lines that are laid out to produce specific components and which, for example, employ interconnected milling and turning machines. The entire line comes to a standstill, if a single machine goes offline. In addition, it is complicated, if not impossible, to adapt lines to changing product ranges or to produce orders to special demands. 

Greater flexibility in this regard requires that such interlinked structures be broken up. One way to do so is to employ the job shop production principle. It groups machines that may be employed in similar manufacturing tasks – for instance, several turning machines could be combined into a turning machine group – which permits orders to be guided flexibly through the manufacturing process. It also allows machine groups for different machining tasks to be laid out in different sizes – greater capacities, for instance, could be facilitated for machining processes that are more time-consuming. The result would be a significant improvement in response times and capacity utilization. 

Such a factory layout makes it possible to adapt processes in response to job-specific requirements at any time. On the one hand, it allows, for instance, an order to be turned on all the turning machines available in a company. On the other hand, process steps can be combined in new sequences again and again, additional steps can be added or unnecessary ones taken out. However, dynamic process networks place high demands on coordination – it must be ensured that all participants are able to keep track of everything at all times, if processes are to remain manageable. Also, alternative methods must be applied to meet one major demand that linked manufacturing fulfils: Reliable production flows must be guaranteed as otherwise processing steps could be overlooked or orders might stall halfway through production as a result of being repeatedly delayed in favor of more urgent jobs. 

This is where the new opportunities of digital networking are brought to bear, because they support the definition and practical application of flexible process networks which can be adapted to changing requirements. Such systems put people at the center, because it is the staff at all levels of production plants who are responsible for making sure that workpieces move through the production process on time. So, in order to ensure that the tasks are carried out reliably in a process network that consists of many minds and manufacturing stations and whose composition could vary slightly with each version of the product, intelligent technologies deliver the necessary transparency and continuously monitor the actual progress of work by comparing it against the scheduled and demanded deadlines. Such concepts also make Industrie 4.0 interesting to small and medium-sized businesses, because they allow the creation of considerably more adaptable flow controls while keeping investments and the implementation effort manageable. 

The exhibit at Hannover Messe illustrates what a paradigm shift in the organization of production could look like along the process chain – from corporate-wide job management to work on individual machines. It shows how the tasks carried out by workers in different parts of a production company could be redefined through the use of networked technologies. Greater flexibility will be made controllable by greater transparency. Companies will therefore become fit for customer-specific manufacturing. 

Five stations present technologies developed and results achieved in the MetamoFAB, iWePro and pICASSO projects and in IPK's preliminary research. The presentation at the fair is being realized in close cooperation with the partners involved in the projects.