The Intelligent Floor is a crucial part of the Factory of the Future. It will identify your devices and machines, manage them, exchange data with them and supply them with electricity, media and more – without cables. As a result, you’ll be able to rapidly change your production line as and when needed, while AGVs deliver goods to the point of need. We spoke to Javier Stillig, who works in Engineering and Solutions for the Factory of the Future at Bosch Rexroth, to find out what inspired him to create such an innovative new solution…and found out why a trip to a do-it-yourself store was an important part of the development process.
When did you first realize there was a requirement for this type of product and what drove that need?
I was working on the topic of wireless energy transmission when I came across the Bosch Rexroth vision for the Factory of the Future – for a factory that is completely flexible and where only the roof, the floor and the walls are fixed.
At the same time, I visited a production line for smartphones in Asia and noticed that a lot of the assembly tasks were not yet automated, even though the operator of the plant definitely had the necessary capabilities. However, products now have such short life cycles that it’s become increasingly complex to build dedicated production lines at the same speed. In addition, product variety is growing, increasing the complexity even further.
Bringing all these elements together made me realize that our customers need to be able to significantly change how they set up their production lines and adapt them according to market needs. This helped me to come up with the vision for the Intelligent Floor.
How do you go about developing a brand new innovation like the Intelligent Floor – what’s the process or your way of working?
I like to work in a very hands-on manner. After I’d developed the vision for the Intelligent Floor, I secured a small amount of funding and drove to the nearest do-it-yourself store to buy the necessary materials. I used those to build the first six square meters of the floor. I gathered feedback from customers and stakeholders and used that to create the next version.
When a product is radically new, like the Intelligent Floor, it’s impossible to develop everything on your laptop. You have to build things to see what works and what doesn’t. That’s why I still work on our building sites, setting up new floor modules. Without this experience you lose valuable insight into what works and what doesn’t.
I also involved partners from the very beginning. They helped me immensely to develop the floor as a whole, as well as individual functionalities. This helped to speed things up and brought a lot of new expertise to the project.
How long did it take to develop the Intelligent Floor?
It took me 2 weeks to create the first prototype. From then on, I’ve created a new version every 6 – 9 months.
How many people were in the team that developed the Intelligent Floor?
On the Bosch Rexroth side, we started out with just me, but got support from several development partners. Now we have two full-time employees and several supporters from other departments who are working with us part-time, as well as working students and interns.
What did you enjoy most about working on this project?
The freedom to create something new that I knew would make a real difference to our customers’ businesses and the collaboration with the partner network and the team.
Has the pandemic impacted your work on the Intelligent Floor at all?
We usually like to work together very closely with our partners and customers. We conduct regular demo days to show the latest developments and gather feedback. When Covid-19 hit us, we had to change our way of working. We switched our demonstrations to virtual, video-based sessions. At the same time, we changed the collaboration style with our partners to virtual collaboration. This has worked surprisingly well, although we’re looking forward to being able to meet our partners and customers more often in real life.
What for you is the most exciting thing about the Intelligent Floor?
That, as well as providing such significant benefits to our manufacturing customers, it also offers so many possibilities in so many other industries. When you talk with somebody who sees the floor for the first time, the creative ideas immediately start coming: such as using it as a safety measure in hospitals, as a training element in sports arenas, in retail locations and so on.
It’s amazing to realize that we’ve only scratched the surface of possibilities and that it’s actually possible to make these a reality with our partner network.
What do you think is the most important customer benefit of the Intelligent Floor?
We make it possible to change your production layout and your logistic routes very quickly and still supply your machines with data, energy and other media. This makes it possible to quickly adapt to market demands.
In addition, our system is completely modular. So you can include new functions, such as localization or safety features, by simply exchanging a few modules in your floor.
Can small and medium sized manufacturers benefit from the Intelligent Floor, as well as larger companies?
Absolutely! Small and medium sized companies in particular frequently use their speed and flexibility as a main selling point to customers. The floor further supports this goal.
Is the Intelligent Floor only relevant in factories or do you foresee it being used in other areas as well?
We’re already in contact with other industries, including offices, retail, hospitality and travel. We believe that the system can quickly be adapted to benefit other industries as well.
Have you had any feedback from customers yet?
Yes. We’ve had very positive customer feedback and are currently working on preparing our first external pilot project. The main advantage that customers see is that the Intelligent Floor is a real step forward for making the convertible factory a reality. In addition, they like the modular system that allows you to quickly implement new functionalities in your factory.
Do you think there will be further developments to the Intelligent Floor in the future and, if so, can you tell us anything about these?
Yes, absolutely. We’re constantly working on expanding our range of functionalities with our partner network. For instance, we’re working on some new safety features, on an improved sensor capability and further implementations of AI. We’re sure there are many more interesting features that can be integrated, so we’re constantly expanding our partner network. If you’re interested in joining, please get in touch with us.
We also want to move the Intelligent Floor closer to a series production status.
Can you tell us anything about what you’ll be working on next?
We’re working on a new project that will make the production line of the future even more flexible. We’re currently building the first prototype and look forward to telling you more about it soon.