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From vision to reality - Inspiring the 4th industrial revolution

06 December 2016

Self-organising and self-learning manufacturing networks are still visionary. A first approach to this vision is the BionicANTs research project from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network which reflects networked and collective behaviour. Industrial applications bear certain aspects of this approach.

Festo’s BionicANTs illustrate how individual systems can use communication to merge into an intelligent overall system – but also how the real and virtual worlds can grow together and also the role that decentralised systems intelligence plays in this process. This gives rise to insights for the flexible, transformable factory of the future.

The technology carrier BionicANTs uses the cooperative behaviour of ants as a model. Festo engineers used complex regulation algorithms to transfer the behaviour of these insects to the world of technology. BionicANTs cooperate in accordance with clearly defined rules which enables them to react autonomously to different situations as individual units, to coordinate their behaviour with each other and to act as a networked overall system. 

All actions are based on a distributed catalogue of rules, devised in advance by mathematical model-building and simulations, and programmed into each ant. The individual insects are able to make decisions autonomously, while nevertheless subordinating themselves to the common aim; each ant contributes its share to solving a task. 

The required exchange of information is effected via the radio modules in the torsos of the ants. The regulation strategy comprises a multi-agent system, in which the participants have equal rights. With the 3D stereo camera in their heads, they recognise an object to be grasped and can determine their own locations.

This cooperative behaviour and decentralised intelligence opens up interesting prospects for the factory of tomorrow. Future production systems will be based on intelligent components that can flexibly adapt to different production scenarios and process orders from the superordinate control level.

Application example
Decentralised intelligence, quick availability and analysis of all relevant data are prerequisites for the success of Industry 4.0 – for more individuality and flexibility, as well as greater system availability and thus increased productivity. Cyber-physical systems will be forming the new basis for this future reality. Modularity, energy efficiency and the use of OPC UA as a communication standard are further features of Industry 4.0, already implemented by Festo in its decentralised automation solutions and mechatronic subsystems. This has enabled the company to create, for example, a flexible loading module for end line packaging. In this application, the linear gantry EXCT permits horizontal and vertical motion, as well as accurate positioning. The stationary motors and the resultant minimal moving mass ensure outstanding dynamic response. The complete package includes all components from a single source – from suction grippers and electric axis systems right up to CODESYS controllers. Dynamic loading processes with fast format changeovers can be easily implemented with this combination. 

The application is controlled by a CODESYS controller CPX-CEC with IP65/67 protection for compact on-site installation – without a control cabinet, neatly integrated into the system. All fieldbuses or Industrial Ethernet, as well as the Industry 4.0 OPC UA standard are available as interfaces. Vision sensors read data matrix codes and control intelligent workpieces and processes. Festo provides users with additional support in the form of reliable services – from engineering and commissioning right up to system operation with software tools, online offerings and advice. Generating more data is one issue, but interpreting them and arriving at the right conclusions is another. Employees in industry, as well as students at vocational colleges and universities, will therefore need to be trained specifically for Industry 4.0.

Qualification 4.0
An understanding of fully automated digital production technologies and knowledge of the layout and programming of digital system networks are in demand. Otherwise tomorrow’s employees will not be capable of operating and optimising complex networked systems or developing flexible, intelligent components, and thus of making a contribution to the necessary versatility and adaptability of the systems.

Festo Didactic offers a cyber-physical learning and research platform in the form of the CP Factory. This platform models the stations in a real production plant. Learning content includes, for example, systems programming, networking, energy efficiency and data management. The platform also enables flexible software solutions to be developed and tested so that they can be used in production.

Being once again the driving force behind automation, Festo is at the forefront of Industry 4.0 – from learning to initial applications, from products and solutions to revolutionary research on BionicANTs. It is helping its customers on their way to ground-breaking, forward-looking solutions and significantly improved productivity.

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