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Nowadays, for example, engine blocks are generally manufactured by a number of machines in interlinked processes. All the operations are precisely defined in a kind of roadmap. The problem is that if machines fail or components need to be prioritized due to customer needs, there is a lack of flexibility. Researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT are therefore showcasing a production system at HANNOVER MESSE 2017 in which each component carries with it information about the production steps it needs to go through, so that it can orient itself like an individual.

The components, which each have a QR code, are thus able to select the first available machine with the appropriate capabilities for each individual processing step. As the components pass through each production stage, the system identifies which task has been completed and to what extent and the software thus records the production history for each component, creating a digital twin. The developers of this system have dubbed it a "service-oriented architecture for adaptive and networked production".

Thanks to the digital twin, the system knows at all times what is being machined, what is doing the machining and what the next step is. Companies whose machinery produces batches of different components can benefit greatly from this innovation. Unlike conventional manufacturing with systems that have to be halted, reprogrammed and converted when switching to the new product, the Fraunhofer researchers’ service-oriented solution has the product itself telling the machinery what needs to be done. "By networking components and machines, companies in the future will be able to manufacture truly unique products one after another, thus achieving batch size 1 production," explains Michael Kulik, project manager at the IPT. To do that, companies will have to ensure all the process data for the relevant component can be provided in the form of a digital twin in a smart manufacturing network.