“From production worker to creative maker.”

“From production worker to creative maker.”
Marginal Column
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Franke

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Jörg Franke
is the holder of the chair in production automation and production systems at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. His focus is on automation technology and mechatronic systems that benefit humanity through interdisciplinary development and integrated optimization.

Copyright Photo: FAPS

M. Sc. Hans Fleischmann

M. Sc. Hans Fleischmann
is a researcher and PhD candidate in production automation and production systems at the Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg. As part of his dissertation, he is investigating the design and implementation of cyber-physical production systems for technical diagnostics applications.

Copyright Photo: FAPS


November 2017


What does the future of networking in factory automation look like? Prof. Dr. Jörg Franke and M.Sc. Hans Fleischmann talk about the current situation, the biggest changes and the role of people.

How do you see the current situation regarding digitalization in industry?

Franke: For those of us involved in production automation, the issues of digitalization and networking are far from new. In today’s factories we have control technology that is digitally based but is often networked using proprietary and closed field bus systems. What is new is the spread of service-based architectures and Internet technologies in manufacturing industry, at the meeting point of information and automation technology. The primary focus is on developing supplementary digital services in value creation networks, bringing added value in industrial production and enabling further increases in efficiency.

How do developments differ in regions worldwide?

Franke: Many countries have now launched digitalization initiatives: Industrie du Future in France and the Industrial Internet Consortium in the USA to name just two. Germany is leading the way by comparison with the Industry 4.0 platform. We already have viable concepts, such as a reference architecture model and implementation strategies such as the Industry 4.0 component. We are maybe also a little bit ahead of the Americans and Asians when it comes to implementation. They often lack the answers as to how reference architectures can be implemented in reality. In various research projects supported by the German Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), such as the PRODISYS project, at our institution we are currently developing digital platform ecosystems that supplement physical products with additional services.

In which areas is there the greatest need to catch up?

Fleischmann: We still have lots of old equipment that needs to be taken into account and migrated. We are doing relatively well when it comes to new systems. Looking at Rexroth’s products, for example, in terms of the computing platforms and communication standards we have numerous opportunities for realization of supplementary Internet-based services as part of Industry 4.0. However, we lack training concepts. In the future, conventional mechanical engineering companies will increasingly have to address issues that fall into the area of information technology. As a University, we work with partners from industry to offer appropriate training programs. Overall, the issues of standardization and interoperability in value creation networks are gaining in relevance. Solutions such as AutomationML and OPC UA already exist, but in many cases are inadequately integrated. I think there is a need for software providers to act - particularly in the area of CAx. Ultimately, the aim is to establish dynamic value creation networks that can be optimized in terms of the traditional criteria of costs, time, and quality.

Will existing machine stocks have to be replaced with new ones in the coming years?

Fleischmann: It’s crucial to differentiate between brown field and green field scenarios here - whether we’re talking about existing production systems that need to be upgraded or planning totally new production systems. For brown field integration, Rexroth offers its WebConnector, a web-based solution for connecting the automation environment with stationary and mobile terminals. In this case, the ROI is critical. What added value does the use of a specific technology bring when I come to replace or upgrade an existing system?

Company size as a factor: Are SMEs at a disadvantage when it comes to digitalization?

Franke: Yes, I would say so. Bosch - a company that has made huge investments in the Internet of Things - naturally has very different possibilities to a typical SME mechanical engineering company with 100 to 200 employees. But we certainly have some effective support programs in Germany to enable SMEs to realize I4.0. Based on experience, not every SME will receive support but there is at least the chance to promote innovative ideas as part of research projects. At FAPS, we have already launched several projects in which we are working with SMEs and supporting them on the road towards digitalization. Specifically, this involves the development of cyber-physical production systems with a high degree of scalability that can diagnose and optimize themselves using self-organization features.

Do SMEs have to find more creative solutions?

Franke: Yes. We are seeing today that numerous start-ups are being established, in IT for example. In the coming years, a similar trend will be observed with SMEs in the mechanical engineering sector.

In terms of the level of digitalization, the consumer goods industry is more mature than the investment goods industry. Will this level out?

Franke: The advantage of the consumer goods industry is it has to juggle a relatively small number of product variations - just think of smartphones or automatic lawnmowers for example - that sell in large volumes. In the investment goods industry we often have individually designed products in very heterogeneous systems. A production system consists of a large number of different sensors, actuators, field devices, and IT systems. It’s a whole other level of complexity. But the investment goods industry is definitely a pioneer for things that only become established in the consumer goods industry at a later stage. Simulation technology is one example. However I do think that Industry 4.0 will see the level of digitalization in the two areas move closer together.

In which area should we expect the biggest advances in networking?

Fleischmann: We have already reached a good position in software. Using software development kits, you can now easily establish semantically described interfaces with IoT capability. In terms of hardware, we have to become more compact. For example, sensors need to integrate directly into mechanical components. In the FAPS research project PreSense, we are working on seamless integration of sensors with direct printing of conductor paths. Ideally, we will be able to use energy harvesting to supply integrated components with the required energy and have them communicating using appropriate communication standards like Bluetooth LE. However, that will take a big step forwards.

What role will people play in a networked production environment?

Franke: It’s absolutely crucial to emphasize that people will not disappear from production. But that doesn’t mean the level of automation will not continue to increase. There will be new concepts such as human/robot collaboration, which will lead to further reductions in the amount of manual work. As a result, the role of people will change from production workers to creative makers and designers. For example, in Erlangen we are working on the S-CPS project, which involves creation of a resource cockpit for socio-cyber-physical systems in maintenance. It is all about defining degrees of freedom. What is done by the intelligent system and how can human input be used to improve classification and diagnostic capabilities in the production system. How can I use people’s experience and cognitive abilities in line with resulting cyber-physical production systems? On this basis, further automation of planning activities is possible.

Networking extends over company boundaries. How does this reconcile with data security?

Franke: When we talk about networking, value creation networks and traceability, this necessarily involves increased data exchange. Depending on the application and privacy requirements, we need to define the level of data security that is really necessary. There are already numerous technologies that support data security considerations. We have certified encryption mechanisms that help us to exchange data securely, as well as new concepts such as Blockchain, which are starting to move across from IT into manufacturing. However, support from legislators is necessary when it comes to the challenges associated with data ownership, so that industrial solutions can operate within a legally secure framework. At FAPS, in the area of Electronic Manufacturing Services (EMS) we are establishing concepts and systems that allow efficient, highly networked cooperation. For example, they enable EMS companies with their small-volume production to work more closely with large companies.