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On the way to production runs of one

27 February 2017

Work being undertaken by Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology is putting us on the road towards ever shorter production runs, with the help of digital twins.

Traditionally, machines have produced parts in networked, preprogrammed production runs: pieces are turned, milled and measured in a set order. However, if a machine fails or a customer order is changed production needs to be re-configured, which can be time-consuming and expensive.

What if, instead of a central control program issuing commands, the workflow would develop flexibly, with each part deciding for itself the best route through production. Sound like a pipe dream? Well it may not be, as this is what developers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology (IPT) in Aachen are currently working towards.

Entitled ‘Service-Oriented Architecture for Adaptive and Networked Production’ it functions in a similar way to an automobile navigation system that uses current data to determine the best route in real time. Each part carries information regarding the next production stage – which machine will be called into operation is purposely left undecided. Only when a production stage is pending does the system select a machine from those that are readily available. Each part bears a QR-Code identifying it as a unique entity.

Digital twins
The software remembers what was done to each part at each production stage. For example, ‘Hole is drilled with machine parameter A and tool X’. A digital twin emerges from this history, displaying at any time where its physical counterpart is in the production process. Digital twins can offer benefits to manufacturers of a wide variety of goods because updating or changing a production run does not require a system overhaul.

The ‘Smart Manufacturing Network’ manages the digital twin, always analysing and reusing its process data to improve process robustness and product quality. “Networking machines with parts will enable companies to produce one-off products in the future – production runs of one,” said Michael Kulik, project leader at Fraunhofer working on the software development.

A unique aspect of the system is the menu which configures a production sequence. Using drag-and-drop, the user selects individual steps from a list of all services and arranges them in the desired order like building blocks. If a machine fails, a part is simply rerouted to another available machine.

“Many machines in a production line can perform a variety of tasks,” continued Kulik. “For example, a five-axis milling machine can also do the job of a simpler three-axis milling machine. In the future, the Smart Manufacturing Network’s service oriented software will be able to flexibly decide whether to do the job on an idle five-axis machine.”

To enable flexible production it is important that machines from various manufacturers are able to easily integrate into the Smart Manufacturing Network. IPT is working on this with partners from science and industry in Fraunhofer’s ‘Networked, Adaptive Production’ performance center. “The plug-and-play that we know from everyday technology does not yet exist in industry,” said Dr. Thomas Bobek, coordinator of the Fraunhofer performance center. “However, our goal is to make plug-and-produce possible.”

Fraunhofer’s researchers will demonstrate how the digital twin, service-oriented software and Smart Manufacturing Network collaborate at Hannover Messe at Stand C22, Hall 2.

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