Basic technologies, solution models and software libraries are being developed in six areas, and provided in a technology platform. Innovation projects from businesses and research institutes lay the foundation.
During production process automation, machines are controlled by hardware and software such a way that process runs autonomously, this means without human intervention. Automation solutions that are available on the market can be used for processes that remain the same or are rigid.
Flexible and fluid processes are expected to run automatically without human intervention in the next stage of automation. Therefore, machines will be designed to set themselves up independently, enabling the production of different product variants. To do this, decisions that were previously made by humans will have to be illustrated using software. In this regard, technical systems will be required that are able to handle problems in decision-making structures similar to humans. Intelligent behaviour is simulated using algorithms. A crucial requirement here is the ability to learn from past situations and to improve the process based on lessons learned.
Machine intelligence methods enable businesses to automate complex production processes allowing them to manufacture faster, more cheaply and at a better quality. Production errors, operating faults and downtime are prevented. It's not just production processes but also products, such as intelligent household appliances, that can be optimised using machine intelligence: A vacuum cleaning robot from Miele can use machine intelligence to locate obstacles, to optimise its routes and to adapt to changing environmental conditions, which is a product function that creates added value for the client.
Safety & Security
High demands are placed on security due to increasing machine complexity and networking. “Safety” is defined as the reliability and functionality of a system. For instance, this includes error-free machine operation, but also safe handling and use.
“Security” designates system protection against unauthorised external access. To do this, companies require holistic safety concepts that do not have to be painstakingly redesigned each time in order for them to face obvious IT risks.
New methods for safety & security are being developed and used in the Leading-Edge Cluster. In this respect, Janz-Tec AG is developing a secure platform to safely store data in environments that are not trustworthy. Phoenix Contact is introducing new methods into its development processes to allow them to take security into account from the very start. In recognition of this, the business was certified by TÜV Süd according to IT safety standard IEC 62443-4-1.
Designing sociotechnical systems
Sociotechnical systems where humans interact with a technical device are making our lives easier every day. Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri are examples of such systems that are increasingly finding their way into industry - in manufacturing as well as offices.
There are a great deal of potential uses for intelligent assistance systems in industry. They may take the pressure off employees, not only during physically demanding work or routine tasks. In fact, they also offer support when setting up, maintaining and assembling machines and systems by making required information available on demand. Potential forms of interaction comprise speech recognition and voice control, augmented or virtual reality, gesture control or context recognition.
For example, a mechanic can see maintenance or repair notes for a machine via and a pair of data glasses, which he can then implement directly on-site. Alternatively, when assembling complex devices, a screen shows workers which part they have to fit next. The assistance system takes on a testing role in both cases.
When developing assistance systems, they have to be individually adapted to the respective application. A crucial factor for success here is involving employees at an early stage so the systems can support future users in the best possible way. This is how machine and system user-friendliness and production process quality and efficiency can be improved. The focus is not just on technology here, benefits for employees are always taken into account.
Industrie 4.0 is aimed at ensuring that value-added chains are continually networked horizontally and vertically. This means that in-house business processes such as production, logistics and purchasing are networked with one another, and the same applies for the business with suppliers and clients. An order-driven production system should be gradually achieved as a result: a client order triggers product manufacture instantly.
Prerequisite is a reliable digital infrastructure. This includes, for example, powerful broadband, mainframes, secure networks and cloud services.
To do this, businesses require a holistic strategy with an IT infrastructure that has been aligned to customised developments and needs. Furthermore, IT solutions must be flexible to configure.
For instance, Plug-and-Produce approaches are being used to ensure that modules can be integrated into existing production lines without having to be set manually. Crucial success factors for digital infrastructures are uniform standards and adaptive solutions. Companies can leverage these, instead of developing customised individual solutions. This is how they can meet the requirements for a digital infrastructure that can be flexibly adapted to changes in their products and business models.
Due to digital transformation, the term “value-added chain” no longer does justice to current developments. Added value is no longer a linear chain, it is an overarching network in which in-house teams, external partners, suppliers and clients can operate together in a flexible manner. Client requirements can thus be directly incorporated into product development and manufacture.
In the Leading-Edge Cluster, companies receive support with setting up new value-added networks. For instance, maturity level models are used to objectively assess competencies in Industrie 4.0 and to derive measures for improvement. Another focus is developing and introducing new business models. Platforms have an important role to play here.
Platforms will shape markets in the production sector in a similar way to how Uber has changed passenger transport. Businesses have to exploit the potential of platforms and offer services on them so as to not lose access to customers. Claas is one of the pioneers with its in-house 365FarmNet platform which shows what managing an agricultural business might look like in the future.
Advanced Systems Engineering
Digital transformation in industry is increasing complexity in product development: Intelligent products, combinations of products and services and value-added networks require close interaction between different specialist disciplines such as mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and control technology. This is also becoming more common in software technology. Advanced Systems Engineering interlinks these disciplines to observe product and production system as a unit over its entire life cycle. Information and communication technologies are increasingly being used in the process to improve development processes and tools.
New machines that are still at the development stage may thus be tested in a virtual production environment. As a result, tests can be carried out at an early stage to see whether the requirements are being met, and whether all elements of the production line are interacting properly. Cluster businesses such as Claas and Miele have recognised the importance of Systems Engineering for their in-house product development. They are actively reshaping the development process to be successful among global competitors in spite of increasing product and value-added process complexity.
It is not just quality and efficiency of product development being improved and expedited thanks to new methods in advanced Systems Engineering, the same is true for product quality and efficiency.