Lohr am Main, 2017-11-24

The factory of the future – preparing today for the capabilities of tomorrow

Dr. Heiner Lang, Senior Vice President Business Unit Automation & Electrification Solutions, Bosch Rexroth AG

In mechanical engineering, a question that is currently under intense discussion is: what will the factory of the future look like? And what does this mean for current investment decisions? What is future proof and how can modern production be adapted to suit current market needs? And lastly: what can automation contribute to this development?

There is consensus among practitioners that in mass production, cost pressure and quality requirements will continue to grow. However, there is also an increasing need to be able to manufacture customer-specific products with batch sizes of one at market-competitive prices, all to a high and consistent quality standard.

To understand the extent of the possible changes, let’s look at it another way: What will connectivity not change in the factory of the future? Surprisingly little: the floor, the walls and the roof. The rest of the factory: the machines, automation topologies, equipment, communication paths, even the people and how they work together are subject to the changes demanded by the factory of the future.

When it comes to the question of how these scenarios will affect the next generations of automation technology, Bosch Rexroth believes that there are clear lines of development: the automation architecture of the future will rely even more strictly on distributed intelligence and connecting all devices in production. As such, interoperability must be guaranteed across the hierarchical levels of the classic automation pyramid, right through to enterprise IT and cloud applications.

The mechanical engineering industry needs new automation platforms that are limitlessly connective and guarantee maximum flexibility in (re-)configuring equipment. In this way, end users can establish flexible and optimized value streams in production that describe a target state in the virtual, data-driven world of the factory and are in positive competition with the materialized real world. At the same time, these new automation platforms must cover the conventional issues of cycle times, availability, energy efficiency and machine safety.

The factory of the future, however, will not necessarily be designed on the drawing board alone – it is also evolving on site on the shop floor. Today, it is already possible to integrate installed machines and systems with added value in connected environments. Software solutions like Bosch Rexroth’s IoT Gateway integrate all machines and modules equally and independently of the hardware or control. This software is highly connective to a wide range of sensors, a broad range of control programs from different manufacturers, and OPC UA and OPC DA standards. Every device is addressable from any location and end users can benefit from all of the current and future capabilities of the Internet of Things.

Those who must make investment decisions today may not yet know what the requirements of the factory of the future will be regarding machines and systems. But one thing is certain: isolated solutions that gamble on the establishment of a proprietary standard are very risky since in terms of what needs to be connected they entail a high integration effort. On the other hand, solutions that are consistently decentralized, intelligent and maximally connective with open standards will be much easier to integrate – and they prepare today for the capabilities of tomorrow.

For more information about Bosch Rexroth, visit


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