The digital transformation offers companies in all industries numerous opportunities to develop at different levels. Innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence create new opportunities in places where humans and systems have reached their limits. But they also raise many further questions. Currently, intelligent voice controls such as Siri and Alexa or the discussions about self-driving cars are visible to society.
The real value of data goes far beyond mere analysis: The epitome of Industry 4.0 is to optimize high-mix production with small lot sizes using AI.
Nowadays, the industry is focused on collecting data, hoping that analysis will create value from that data. However, Industry 4.0 is about optimizing the factory, which these days has to produce small batch sizes and a more extensive product mix. Permanent optimization is all about finding and eliminating scrap and downtime of any kind.+
Apart from the machines' simple downtime, Industry 4.0 is about analyzing the periods for which there is no data at all because the mechanisms or processes did not work. How should "no data" be interpreted? The reality is that the digital factory-scale has to be divided into three levels, each with its challenges.
Smart Manufacturing Software
For generations, software systems in manufacturing have remained the same in terms of machine connectivity in terms of what they can offer and achieve. Solution providers can now be divided into two categories: The one group that played a vital role in the creation and development of CFX and can provide CFX support as standard and have current, mature solutions based on an IIoT architecture that aims to take advantage of next-generation digital manufacturing.
The other group tries to limit the damage and puts together their CFX support just like any other user interface, which is a big step in itself but only goes as far as the solution formerly and decades ago allows. However, it cannot be overlooked that every software solution with the introduction of CFX offers an opportunity to increase efficiency, regardless of whether it was developed internally or is commercial.
Artificial intelligence in production: Robotics, like its "soft" software colleague AI, is a crucial tool for every company. The status data of the robot can be used, for example, for simulations, which represents an additional safety aspect for the employees and the company. Using a so-called "digital twin" - such as that of a tractor or a machine - work outputs can be simulated and thus optimized for real implementation in the process chain. A successful example in which a robot is made "seeing" using additional sensors and software is already taking place in the John Deere plant in Mannheim. And that with the robotics project "Grip in the box".
The robot recognizes parts in the box and can grip them without collision. The goal is to empty a box filled with bulk goods. The robot's job is to use visual sensors to recognize individual parts in a box, lift them out of the box and place them outside the box. This action is supposed to be collision-free, and the robot has to grip the parts in such a way that they can be placed repeatedly and undamaged in the same way. What sounds like a simple task is a real feat for the processor.
However, according to Moore's law, the performance of computers has doubled since the end of the 1960s. With the computing power of an industrial PC and innovative software, a robot can now also perform more complex, exceptional motor actions. The "grip in the box" system nowadays empties and stores 100 percent. For this purpose, a sensor first creates a 3D point cloud of the bulk material, which is then evaluated by the "grip into the box" software with the aid of a single-part 3D model. The result is real parts that can be removed without collision. The software calculates the required paths and guides the robot precisely to the individual component. Now the robot grabs, and it is again the software that shows the hardware the way out of the box - without moving.
The Connected Factory Exchange standard of the IPC (IPC-CFX) has opened people's eyes in the digital manufacturing world. Now that high costs, resource failures, risks, and long availability times are a thing of the past, the era of the "gold rush" has begun. More information than ever before is available regarding machines, transaction processes, and production staff.
The CFX-led revolution has only recently been released at this first level but is already in full swing at many locations. Almost all well-known machine manufacturers are now able to publish roadmaps and announce support by CFX. Many proof-of-concept (POC) projects were started in partnership with robust Artificial Intelligence consulting services, the dynamics of which quickly picked up speed. The concepts behind CFX, such as true "plug and play," the "last user interface you will ever need," and "free machine connections," have already inspired the entire industry.