Faster, more flexible and more efficient: these characteristics are the main requirements of the automotive industry when it comes to developing its own production systems. To achieve this, today’s manufacturing operations must be placed on a new technological foundation. This is exactly what the participants of the Software-Defined Manufacturing for the Vehicle and Supplier Industry (SDM4FZI) research project set out to do.
Led by Bosch, the University of Stuttgart and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), a total of thirty companies will set the foundation for software-defined manufacturing over the next three years. Their goal is to build software that can flexibly plan, manage, and change everything from individual components to entire factories. In the automotive industry, this will pave the way for more variants and faster model and product changes. It will also improve competitiveness. The German Federal Ministry of Economics and Energy is funding the research project with some 35 million euros ($40 million).
Rigid systems hold back vehicle production
Today, it often takes months, even years, for the technical elements of the manufacturing chain of a new model to be put in place, from supplier to final assembly. With the considerable economic cost involved, this hampers rapid market launches. The main reason for this is that many machines are designed and built specifically for a single new product. Software is usually inextricably tied to particular machines and products and is not transferable to other processes.
SDM4FZI now aims to create a uniform framework for factories that will allow new products to be manufactured in existing operating environments without significant retooling delays. “By linking various Industry 4.0 approaches, we are getting closer to adaptable manufacturing”, says Matthias Meier, project manager at Bosch. “An ecosystem for software-defined manufacturing allows us to bring the benefits of cloud technology to production. The software makes it possible to use automation technology and computer systems for individual and specific applications without having to create the hardware from scratch.
A uniform framework enables flexible manufacturing
Project partners are developing prototype machines and production lines that are largely software-defined. These prototypes are based on digital twins, which make it possible to virtually plan, build and test production systems. This conserves resources and saves energy and costs. In addition, during production, it also makes the individual manufacturing steps more versatile, so that they can be adapted more quickly to new market conditions. Thanks to digital twins, companies can prepare and implement improvements, and also use AI to analyze them, without having to interrupt the production process. The main objective of the research alliance project is to make automation technology, machines and systems more flexible in order to increase the production efficiency of components and supplier vehicles.
New opportunities for the automotive industry
By pooling expertise from automation, mechanical engineering, IT and the automotive industry, the consortium aims to create a common understanding of requirements and develop interoperable solutions. “The large number of project partners demonstrates how software plays an important role in the manufacturing of tomorrow”, says Michael Neubauer, Chief Technology Officer for ISW at the University of Stuttgart. “We are working on pioneering approaches that will improve the competitiveness of German companies. For example, project partners are writing a guide for the selection and use of appropriate technologies, as well as standards for building software-defined factories.
For more information: www.sdm4fzi.de
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