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"We envision a manufacturing organization which has no rigid plans or fixed processes, one where human coordination and decision-making capabilities play a central role in flow control," explained Eckhard Hohwieler, head of production machinery and plant management at Fraunhofer IPK.

One of Fraunhofer IPK’s key aims is to win the confidence of the SMEs for whom Industrie 4.0 still generates images of factories devoid of humans. "A common misconception is that Industrie 4.0 is about using IT to automate production to the point where human input becomes redundant," says Hohwieler. The researchers at Fraunhofer IPK have a different plan: They believe that, although sophisticated tools inform his decision-making, the human worker in Factory 4.0 ultimately decides which production sequence to use. This approach decentralizes production control, with each worker assuming responsibility and contributing to more flexible production processes and product individualization. IT-based tools ensure that workers at all organizational levels constantly receive the information they need to produce the end-product on schedule – from process management to production planning to final assembly.

The corresponding scenario that Fraunhofer IPK and various partners will present in Hall 17 (Stand C18) is an example of gear-wheel production with five fields of activity. Station 1 is the model-based Industry Cockpit that provides an overview of complex administrative and production processes so that they can be customized to fit individual orders. The cockpit continuously delivers a precise overview of the entire operation, including all processes and the status of the production machinery and the supplier network. All actors – machine operators, shift supervisors, salespeople, and managers – receive real-time information about all aspects of production relevant to their tasks.

Job shop production instead of classic production line

Stations 2 and 3 are for a supervisor, who determines the work plan, and a machine operator, who activates the plan. An integrated, intelligent machine tool that can communicate within the process takes over the processing of the gear-wheel. In the project iWePro, developers at Fraunhofer IPK are working with industry partners to determine how they can reliably control gear-wheel production without linkage at the assembly level. The goal of the project, which Fraunhofer IPK’s exhibit at HANNOVER MESSE will reflect, is to develop an innovative production concept that realizes the vision of a flexible, smart factory with decentralized production scheduling. Whether or not this model of cellular manufacturing ultimately meets individual customer demands better than traditional production lines is currently being evaluated. Researchers are using a complex simulation to determine which combination of centralized planning and flexible rescheduling is appropriate for which use case as well as which operator interventions are sensible.

Station 4 showcases yet another key component of the factory of the future: An intelligent transport system that manages the logistics of materials and components. Various setups are presented there, including automated guided vehicles. Station 5 features an assembly robot that fits various finished gear-wheels onto different shafts. Thus the system must autonomously recognize which shaft is involved. Robots such as these – ones that can accomplish precise, force-fitting tasks – remain rare in industrial processes, but in the future they could support human workers and relieve them of monotonous duties. At the Fraunhofer IPK display, the assembly station is digitally integrated with the Industry Cockpit so that diverse, real-time process data can be used to perform quality checks and detailed analyses.

In any event, Fraunhofer IPK at HANNOVER MESSE 2016 provides an exciting look into the factory of the future. "With our exhibit we deliver an example of how we can use applied research to confirm that Industrie 4.0 works and creates more flexibility in human-machine collaboration," says Hohwieler. At HANNOVER MESSE 2016, the Fraunhofer Society also presents Industrie 4.0 solutions at Research & Technology (Hall 2) and Digital Factory (Hall 7) sectors.