Nick Depperschmidt, Director of Content
In the German federal state of Rheinland-Pfalz there sits a unique collaboration of private industry, research & development, and nonprofit organizations working to make Industry 4.0 more than just a dream for manufacturers in Germany and around the world. Professors from the Technical University of Kaiserslautern and researchers at DFKI are taking what were once only concepts of smart machines and connected factories, and turning them into reality.
The term Industry 4.0 was originally coined in 2012 at Hannover Fair, and promotes the computerization of manufacturing through what is commonly called the Internet of Things (IoT). The initiative was led by the German government, which backs many state and federally run projects in the country. The hope is these cyber and physical systems will join to improve workflow, increase productivity, provide custom manufactured products, decrease training time, and open the door to new business models for service related revenue from companies that previously only had revenue streams from selling manufactured products.
Heading these efforts at the University of Kaiserslautern are Dr. Martin Eigner and Dr. Detlef Zuhlke. Dr. Eigners background in product lifecycle management, CAD/CAM and data processing has led to his work in the Institute for Virtual Product Engineering. There he guides students to degrees and jobs working in Industrial IoT (IIoT) related fields.
The vision starts with combining the cybertronic and the megatronic aspects of product lifecycle management for manufacturing and adding a service oriented business model. Dr. Eigner insists that for Industry 4.0 to thrive there must be new business models for services and production. These include connected IT tool chains, big data, analytics, security, and standards to unify the systems. However, the most important part of Industry 4.0 is the internet of services, and the collaboration that will make Industry 4.0 possible.
For me, Industrial Internet means communication and collaboration. Everything doesnt always need to be on the internet, said Dr. Martin Eigner, University of Kaiserslautern. IoT needs these collaborations to create an Internet of Services.
To foster and grow Industry 4.0 with university students, the Center for Smart Systems Engineering (CSSE) was formed. There students can work towards interdisciplinary degrees with more of a systems engineering approach. This is a big departure for German higher education, where students traditionally choose between mechanical, electrical, material, computer and industrial engineering degrees.
At the CSSE students focus on product engineering and developing a methodology for bringing new ideas and products to the market. They are also mentored on developing business models for forming startups in Germany, something that was uncommon five to 10 years ago.
One place students are encouraged to pursue their startups is at DKFI, a non-profit organization that is the largest artificial intelligence (AI) research center in the world. Their main areas of interest include intelligent networks, innovative factories, embedded intelligence, augmented vision, and knowledge management. Currently on staff are some 240 PhDs and 66 professors working in AI related and smart system fields.
Dr. Zuhlke is one professor at DKFI working to link products to people within the smart factory. His vision is to shorten production times, lean out manufacturing processes for custom made products and quantify data that has been previously wasted. Using components currently available, his staff has built a smart factory line. The newest of which is able to produce custom ordered products, in real time. The vision is that OEMs will be able to produce a product the moment it is ordered, exactly to their customers specifications, and only in the quantities needed. When the next order comes in, a new configuration of the product would be able to be produced on the same line without shutting down the factory floor.
This production line consists of 18 technologies from different companies and was built by a partner consortium with the Technology Initiative SmartFactory. This third generation unit is the worlds first manufacturer independent Industry 4.0 plant. The demonstrator that was brought to the 2016 Hannover Messe shows how market-ready technologies can put Industrial IoT into practice.
Thanks to complete modularity and interoperability, the SmartFactory demonstrator provides flexible and efficient production. A digital product memory controls the order process starting with the product ordered in the exact quantities. True manufacturing on demand. The system can even produce products in batch sizes of one. Something unheard on in traditional manufacturing.
Meanwhile on the backend, flexible networking and IT systems ensure high process transparency. This allows the operator to be prepared for the production change via assistance systems that recommend suitable changes for action as orders come in. It can also suggest maintenance tasks as needed.
If youve been wondering if Industrial IoT or Industry 4.0 is merely jargon, in Rheinland-Phaz it is very much a reality. The only thing left to see if how soon other companies will jump on board the digital evolution of manufacturing.
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