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Pictures of the Future

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Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel

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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation
 

Digital Factory

The Door that Recognized its Body

A vision of the future of automobile production using installation of doors for a VW Golf VII as an example.

Siemens’ Energy, Industry, and Infrastructure Sectors staged their first-ever joint presentation at the 2014 Hannover Fair trade show. Their exhibits offered a preview of the future of the industries these sectors serve. A highlight was a look at concepts for the production systems of the future.

Married and then separated. That describes the initial relationship between vehicle doors and bodies. Indeed, the two are first joined in a body shop to ensure that the gap between them is exactly right. But the union doesn’t last long. Immediately after this important quality parameter is checked, they are separated. The doors are sent to a paint shop for a coating that matches the color of their body. The only question is: how do the two find each other again — and as quickly and accurately as possible?

Strangers in the Night? RFIDs Bring them Together

The vision: During the painting and door interior finishing steps, bodies and doors recognize each other as if by magic — with the help of radio frequency identification chips. These electronic chips would communicate with one another and thus know which components go together. Scanners would read their data and transmit it to robots that would join the components. The robots might also make decisions to correct errors. For example, if a bore were missing, they would order one to be drilled. The above description is a vision of the factory of the future, which, in Germany, is referred to as “Industry 4.0”. The concept is based on the future Internet of Things and Services, in which the physical and virtual worlds merge into a holistic system.

Simulating and Optimizing Logistics

“However, it could take 15 years for all of this to happen,” says Dr. Dieter Wegener, Head of Technology for Siemens' Industry business. Nevertheless, many aspects of Industry 4.0 were on display at the Hannover Fair trade show in April 2014 — more specifically, at the Siemens stand and the Future Forum in Hall 9. One highlight here was a system that knew which automotive model it would need to assemble next. This is important because a major industry trend is that different models are processed on the same assembly line.

The path to Industry 4.0 is being prepared by systems such as Siemens’ Totally Integrated Automation (TIA) Portal and Tecnomatix, which is a product development program that designs and simulates an assembly line. The resulting digital models can also be used to simulate and optimize logistics processes and production throughput.

“Throughput times are reduced by 20 to 60 percent, and material handling costs are lowered by up to 70 percent through optimization of factory layouts in the production planning process.”

Designing Factories at Record Speed

Use of such systems in combination with Siemens’ Simatic IT production software  saves time and money. “The time it takes to design a factory from initial concept to assembly hall layout can be up to 50 percent lower as compared to conventional methods,” says Anton S. Huber, CEO of Siemens Industry Automation. “Throughput times are reduced by 20 to 60 percent, and material handling costs are lowered by up to 70 percent through optimization of factory layouts in the production planning process.”

Such solutions are already being used in the automotive and aerospace industries. The state-of-the-art development techniques utilized by Siemens engineers were also on display in Hannover in the form of the ZEOD RC electric-hybrid race car. The vehicle, which was developed in the virtual world with the help of Siemens PLM Software, is now very much for real and is expected to take part in the 24-Hour Le Mans race.

The principle behind Industry 4.0 is simple, but its implementation is demanding. Every sensor and actuator in a manufacturing process has its own IP address and is thus addressable. This is necessary in order to ensure that customized products can be manufactured in a highly flexible mass production process that reacts quickly to changing market requirements. However, it’s not just that product lifecycles are getting shorter; the whole nature of production is changing as well. Intelligent machines and products, warehousing systems, and manufacturing materials are all being linked together via information and communication technologies that cover the entire value chain — from logistics to production, marketing, and service.

Parts that Know When They Should Be Replaced

At its Service Factory exhibit in Hanover, Siemens presented an industrial production model. The model demonstrated how proper use of data can enable smoother and more energy-efficient production processes. More specifically, the model could be used to project future developments that would serve as a basis for making decisions.

For example, in the future, automotive components will continually collect and transmit data about their condition, and well before a component fails it will ask to be replaced (p. 84). For example, a door-locking system might send a message to its manufacturer to the effect that a replacement part will be needed. All of this is still a long way off, but the initial requirements for it, such as Internet connectivity and error messages issued by onboard computers, already exist. One thing that’s still missing is further integration among vehicles and manufacturers and dealerships in order to ensure optimal service.

Data that Optimizes R&D

Error messages will then be issued containing the exact vehicle type and data on where the component should be sent. Orders will then be processed in a factory in which machines configure themselves to accommodate production and delivery of the component. The system will also automatically generate a service center appointment.

What’s more, in the future, when something goes wrong in a vehicle, a report will be sent not only to the manufacturer and to the nearest service center, but also to development units. Engineers will thus be able to determine the cause of the problem and take measures to prevent it from happening again.

Harald Hassenmüller