China has been at the forefront of the manufacturing race for the past three decades due to its infrastructure, strong supply base and low-wage skilled labor. On the flipside, the rapid rise to dominance has seen compromises being made on environment, sustainability and working conditions. Today, China is facing an economic slowdown, wage rise, complex value chains, while consumers are getting increasingly picky and sophisticated. For how long will China continue to be the world’s factory? Will it continue to have an edge over its Western counterparts? What are the drivers for manufacturing to move towards the West?
Welcome to Industrie 4.0, an initiative that forms a part of the high tech 2020 strategy of the German government to digitize manufacturing. Perhaps shying away from calling it Internet of things (IoT) or Industrial Internet of things (IIoT), it’s safe to say that Industrie 4.0 is the German manufacturing industry’s take on IoT. A critical element of this initiative is the Autonomics for Industrie 4.0 programme which focuses on the exploitation of advancements in Information and Communication technologies (ICT) bundled with process innovation to create state-of-the-art industrial production technologies. Its objective is to establish Germany as a world leader in industrial production and supplier of next-generation smart connected production technologies. Aptly, this is promoted and funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). This blog post aims to provide a brief overview of one of the 15 research projects that have qualified for funding under the Autonomics programme called as Speedfactory:
The Speedfactory research project aims to prototype an automated but modular production environment. Its processes will be modelled on the requirements of the specific product. In this environment, humans and machines can interact and work together in a safe, ergonomic and adaptive manner to produce textiles, sports goods and automobile seat covers from design to end product speedily, at low-cost and in a flexible manner.
While textile manufacturing has a long history, recent changes in consumer buying behavior, fashion trends and needs have rendered existing production setup inefficient, inflexible and expensive. This has given rise to new requirements in production technologies for meeting the current and future demands of textile and sports goods manufacturing:
Low-cost small-series production: Consumer demands necessitate production of highly customized designs with low output volumes
Low-price customization: With design, product management and production activities spread globally, and the challenges of managing a continuous exchange of information, adaptation to design and pattern changes mid-way, there is a need for economically feasible short model cycles in the value chain
High Flexibility: Optimization cycles or changes in appearance and textile properties or composition are both time-consuming and call for a high degree of flexibility from the stakeholders involved
Lower Energy Consumption
Environmentally friendly and efficient processes
Back to Europe: Production of fashion and sports goods to be brought back to Europe
The research projects aims at breaking down the production processes to its most fundamental units, and modularize the approach such that the automation environment can be customized to the needs of the product to be developed at a rapid pace. The co-ordination and control of these individual modules will be largely automated and distributed. You can imagine this as a jigsaw puzzle being assembled to form a picture. The production steps will be further designed and optimized to avoid to-fro transactions across multiple countries and continents, thus shortening both the physical and information logistics channels and cycles significantly. Finally by using sensors, contextual data and intelligence and cognitive processes in conjunction with augmented reality, an intuitive human-machine interaction model will be developed
The following interconnected areas of research will address the technological challenges described in the earlier sections, and they are spread across the players in their respective areas of expertise:
Cognitive process modelling
3D industrial applications
adidas group along with its industrial and academic partners are focusing on different topics of research to deliver a prototype by September 2016:
The project was initiated by the adidas group’s project team with consultants and experts from adidas Innovation, global IT innovation and sourcing teams. adidas AG is the project leader for the research partnership, and the final factory demonstrator supplying prototypes to showcase the new production options will be situated most likely at the adidas Group’s headquarters in Herzogenaurach, in the district of Erlangen-Höchstadt, in Bavaria, Germany
Johnson Control GmbH
Johnson Controls GmbH is the German arm of the multi-national, multi-industrial conglomerate with products and services in electronics and interior systems for automobiles. In the Speedfactory project, its goal is to automate the production of vehicle seat covers and seating components. The company intends to optimize the cutting and sewing process as well as the handling of textiles. This new process will involve textiles being cut in a certain way, aligned and then joined to make trim covers.
Fortiss is an academic research institute associated with the Technical University of Munich. In the Speedfactory project it is primarily focusing on two research areas:
Cognitive process modeling: Modularizing production processes and respective approaches for their automatic implementation. The production process is divided into several steps that can then be executed by machines or humans
Human-machine interaction: In the area of human-machine interaction, Fortiss focuses on the development of concepts to support human operations. The goal is to reduce the load on humans and to keep it as low as possible.
KSL Keilmann Sondermaschinenbau GmbH
KSL Keilmann are the industry’s experts in 3D robotic stitching, and will focus on developing 3D industrial applications optimized to the specific needs of the textile and sporting goods industry
Deployment and Scale Challenges
Once the prototype is ready, and attracts the other players in the segment, there will be a newer set of challenges to address. Deployment of the Speedfactory environment in the manufacturing plants will need the right mix of skilled engineers who are familiar with the industrial production domain and experts from ICT to implement the electronics and software. There will be operational challenges in adapting the complete supply chain across design, production and merchandising. Companies will also need to look at RoI to substantiate the investments towards the adaptation.
In the era of an increasingly affluent middle class, social media driven consumer behavior changes, intercultural influences on creativity and design, and a demand for highly personalized products, there is definitive value in developing production infrastructures by utilizing smart factory concepts derived from innovations in silicon, embedded, connectivity, communications, perceptual computing, software applications, big and small data & analytics. The project’s sensitivity to sustainability and environmental issues is another feather to the cap. It is too early to decipher whether this will enable movement of manufacturing and jobs from East to West, but the research will create value and benefit the industrial segment as a whole. Its learnings, new methodologies, technological innovations can be adopted by manufacturing in other segments like luxury goods, electronics, watches, accessories, luggage and many more
Sasken, with its expertise across the edge, short range and long range connectivity, cloud, applications and analytics is well equipped to address the challenges of connecting manufacturing plants to IoT for the Industrie 4.0 revolution. One of our key success stories is the development of a digital enablement station for usage at the OEM factory of a multinational sports shoe brand through our partnership with a NFC based RFID inlays manufacturer. This station enables a person on the factory floor to check functionality of tags prior to embedding, match the product key to each NFC tag, verify the tag-shoe relations and export it to the IoT Platform thus providing an optimized method to ensure brand protection and product authentication right at the source.
Sasken is a specialist in Product Engineering and Digital Transformation providing concept-to-market, chip-to-cognition R&D services to global leaders in Semiconductor, Automotive, Industrials, Smart Devices & Wearables, Enterprise Grade Devices, Satcom and Transportation industries.
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