Envision the Factory of the Future

March 24, 2011
Industrial expert believes acquiring and applying process knowledge is critical to efficiency; EMO Hannover 2011 will show new production concepts that integrate process knowledge, and learn from it.
In the future, product development and production planning will have to anticipate the entire product lifecycle.

Knowledge is power, as everyone knows, but according to the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation (IPA), lack of knowledge leads to inefficiency. According to Prof. Dr.-Ing. Engelbert Westkämpe, manufacturers that fail understand advances in process technology undermine their organizations’ efficiencies and limit their chances for success in global markets.

Furthermore, according to IPA director, “up-to-the-future production systems demand utilization of knowledge on all levels of the hierarchy.”

The factory of the future, emphasizes Professor Westkämper, “requires holistic production systems with a learning capability, based on learning effects in all stages of the process chains involved, from initial conception and configuration all the way through to after sales service support operations.” The goal here, he adds, is to achieve higher production outputs by integrating knowledge modules into the engineering systems concerned. What’s particularly innovative here is the learning ability of the simulation systems involved.

Until lately, IT for manufacturing companies was mainly characterized by the organizational and functional separation of planning and actual operations. In the IPA researcher’s estimation, future indus-trial production operations, beginning from the planning stage, will inconceivable without state-of-the-art tools in a digital factory. However, consistently integrated factory and process planning are rarely imple-mented.

According to Westkämper, the IPA’s research emphasis on “Grid Engineering for Manufactur-ing” (GEM) “is an innovative approach in the field of networked, digital and knowledge-based production processes, focusing principally on consistently integrated developing of the product concerned and on factory and process planning.” Based on this approach, an integration platform has been developed at IPA that enables its users to operate consistent, multi-scale factory and process planning: the “GEMlab” (Grid Engineering for Manufacturing Laboratory) demonstration center opened in February.

Sustainable factory planning and operation
Only a holistic approach that covers all of a factory’s lifecycle phases, will meet the requirements for an up-to-the-future production operation. “Result-relevant” decisions during the planning process can be made only on the basis of correct, up-to-date information. “In the phases of strategic planning and factory operation, especially,” Prof. Westkämper said, “these decisions have usually been based so far on fuzzy information.”

The Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology and Automation in Stuttgart, Germany, focuses research on Grid Engineering for Manufacturing (GEM), which it calls “an innovative approach in the field of networked, digital and knowledge-based production processes, focusing principally on consistently integrated developing of the product concerned and on factory and process planning.” IPA’s “GEMlab” (Grid Engineering for Manufacturing Laboratory) demonstration center opened in February.

Thus, particularly when it comes to handling complex planning tasks, close interdisciplinary coopera-tion on a cross-departmental basis is indispensable. Factory equipment suppliers want the systems concerned to be configurable from a kit of standardized modules, enabling them to offer their customers reliable solutions more quickly. In addition, it must be possible to modify the concepts concerned more swiftly to suit changing production tasks using adaptive systems.

The economic expansion in the first few years of this millennium, explains IPA Director Westkämper, “was significantly boosted by information and communication technologies, and by mechatronics. The recent crisis has triggered structural changes and new types of production concept, that are being influenced by the ongoing megatrends.” These include urbanization, globalization (global-ized networking of markets and production operations), and individualization of products, technology and sustainability.

Transforming knowledge into added value
Transforming knowledge into added value, Westkämper adds, is one of the biggest challenges involved in production engineering: “I am firmly convinced that we can utilize knowledge in the form of models, cognitive IT systems, knowledge-based engineering systems and knowledge-based control systems in many organizational and technical processes for swift and dependable change.” If past expe-rience can be remembered and reused appropriately, then goals like zero-defects production or rapid changeovers can be achieved. Machines with integrated process knowledge can then be operated cost-efficiently, even if the requisite qualifications are not available.”

The professor explains the idea of learning ability in lines and processes as follows: “Learning is the ability to do something more effectively with knowledge obtained from empirical feedback or from re-search, or at least not to repeat mistakes. If we succeed in imaging the knowledge relating to the causal connections of processes in models, and integrating it into planning or control tools like simulation sys-tems, for example, we shall obtain enhanced dependability.”

Present-day modeling and simulation technologies run the risk of being too far removed from reality, or of representing the knowledge concerned in forms that are too abstract. This is why Westkämper recommends “continually supplying and calibrating simulation systems with feedback from what’s actually happening, so as to utilize them then for a look ahead. I call this learning from the future while taking all due account of the past.”

Contributions towards implementing product characteristics with steadily decreasing amounts of material, or reducing rejects are simultaneously also contributions towards cutting energy costs. Lean manufacturing has perfected quality management and logistics: “The business community knows about the methods, but is struggling with the availabilities of small quantities in the supply chains, and is wasting resources in the logistical networks.” Sustainable production, meaning the ability to survive crises, is one of the strategic thrusts of ongoing research: “We have very recently experienced just how quickly re-sources are lost in an economic crisis. We need sturdy business models plus up-to-the-future technology in order to overcome the performance boundaries of present-day holistic production systems.”

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Engelbert Westkämper, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Tech-nology and Automation, Stuttgart, insists that "up-to-the-future production systems demand utilization of knowledge on all levels of the hierarchy."

“EMO sets the trends”
IPA Director Engelbert Westkämper said he expects EMO Hannover 2011 to reflect the high level of innovative vigor in Germany’s machine tool industry: “The EMO sets the trends for the future, excelling in terms of innovative dynamism in regard to system adaptivity, shortened process chains, process mastery when dealing with multivariant molds and materials, the use of new kinds of tool material, minimized non-productive and make-ready times, energy savings, digital IT systems and many other innovations. I also expect a high level of problem-solving competence for all manufacturing categories and industrial sectors. I am firmly convinced that our visions for the factory of the future will be recognizable at the EMO.”

EMO Hannover 2011, the biennial trade event for machine tools and metalworking technology will take place September 19-24 in Hanover, Ger-many. Its core attractions will concern cutting and forming machine tools, production systems, high-precision tools, automated material flows, computer technology, industrial electronics and accessories, but the planners also promise presentations on a range of topical issues and emerging technologies, and subjects that concern a range of manufacturing sectors.

Walter Frick is a freelance journalist.

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