Industry 4.0 Concepts Put to the Test

Jan. 15, 2014
In Germany, SmartFactoryKL is a manufacturer-independent demonstration and research project tackling the implementation and assessment of Industry 4.0—the next generation of smart-factory automation.

A key focus of SmartFactoryKL’s latest Innovation Day, held in Kaiserslautern, Germany, in September, was the assessment of the economic and scientific ramifications of Industry 4.0, a project within the German government’s high-tech strategy that promotes the computerization of traditional industries such as manufacturing.

SmartFactoryKL is a manufacturer-independent demonstration and research platform in which innovative information and communication technologies are tested and developed in a realistic industrial production environment. Its demonstration plant illustrates a vision of the factory of the future in which diverse components from different manufacturers are connected, with the goal of having components in these connected systems able to operate independently.

The Innovation Day’s agenda included the much-discussed development toward Industry 4.0. Cyber-physical systems (CPSs), virtual support technologies for engineering and production, and applications for the Internet of Things (IoT) are well suited for industry, asserted Professor Detlef Zühlke, from DFKI, the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence.

Zühlke said he has been noticing a growing interest in these topics, which is also apparent in the fact that 26 partners from various economic and scientific fields are now involved with the Smart Factory. Now “it’s time for small and medium-size enterprises in particular to join in on the developments and push them forward,” he said.

Other lectures—presented by Paolo Pedralozzi (TTS Italy), Jay Lee (University of Cincinnati), Ole Scheller (Schott), Jochen Schlick (Wittenstein) and Marcus Schmidt (John Deere)—gave insight into application fields such as simulation, condition monitoring, big data and auto identification. Both Lee and Schlick emphasized that the central issue related to a company’s ability to move forward is the ability to quantify the added value of those technologies.

To help prove the value these technologies can bring to companies of all sizes, Wittenstein is verifying the feasibility of Industry 4.0 concepts such as CPS and the Internet of Things in its its own component manufacturing processes, as well as in a business model sense. A change of perspective from product-focused development to a consideration of the end-user application scenario—which could be pushed forward by the increasing digitalization of the factory organization—poses both a challenge and an opportunity for companies like Wittenstein, Schlick said.

Companies focus on the advantages of continuous data worlds to build a bridge between user and producer, e.g. in the field of engineering and configuration. John Deere gave an end-user perspective, with Schmidt explaining how the equipment manufacturer uses ID procedures ranging from barcode labels to RFID for the regulation and control of parallel installation processes, depending on the specific information needed. According to Zühlke, the essential challenge for the broad establishment of such agile systems is the standardization of them in practice, which is often inadequate. Though such standards are available for a number of applications, the industry needs to agree on consistent models, he said.

Research and funding

To prove the implementation of a fast integration from the connector up to the end application, the research team at SmartFactoryKL is already planning the next version of its Smart Factory demonstrator. “We want to create real plug-and-play at the module level,” Zühlke said. The DFKI expects the demonstrator to be ready for public viewing in Kaiserslautern early this year. The solution is to be presented to the general public at 2014’s Hannover Messe, in a construction depth of 6-8 m.

At the same time, the institute was happy to announce continued broad support for the DFKI project. Joe Weingarten, head of the department of innovation at Rheinland-Palatinate’s Ministry of Economic Affairs, assured those in attendance of the ministry’s continued participation in the funding of the project, and emphasized the role of research as an impetus to the economic and innovative potential of the region.

Up next for the DFKI, the institute plans to compile a technology roadmap that will focus on establishing a center for evaluation and application of Industry 4.0 technologies and business models specifically for businesses in the Rhineland-Palatinate area.

>> Michael Eckl is editor-in-chief of IT&Production, a German publication that emerged from SPS-Magazin and covers industrial IT subjects.