Intelligent Factories Are Coming Soon
With the advance of various lean manufacturing technologies, time to market for products is shrinking, leaving factory processes struggling to catch up. In response, Fraunhofer scientists are working to make factories smarter so they can react to ever-changing demands with limited human interaction.
The Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation IOSB in Karlsruhe, Germany, along with Fraunhofer IPA in Stuttgart and Fraunhofer IPT in Aachen are looking to the world of biology for answers. Just as DNA holds the blueprint for all life, manufacturing facilities are also based on a master plan, a comprehensive set of instructions that dictate every part and process. The IT specialists at Fraunhofer are working to decode this "factory DNA".
Current practices are tedious, and often rely on trial and error. "The trouble is," says Dr. Olaf Sauer, division director at the IOSB, "you only notice any mistakes when the line is back up and running."
With this in mind, the research partners developed a new communication technique that is similar to the plug-and-play USB interface employed by today's home computers. A typical factory will house many different kinds of machines built by different vendors, and each machine speaks a different language. To support inter-device communication, the Fraunhofer team invented and patented a digital translator that takes the various inputs and converts them into a standard machine language called Computer Aided Engineering Exchange (CAEX). Having proven their approach with a successful small-scale model, the researchers have started work on a real-world implementation.