Mass production of industrial goods, such as furniture, clothing or ball pens, is inexpensive. In the future, even small series of individualized products might be manufactured rapidly and efficiently by means of intelligent machines that communicate with each other.
To this end, researchers of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) coordinate the SkillPro EU research project that is aimed at finding innovative solutions to considerably reduce changeover times in the production process.
Having completed one order, manufacture of any new product ordered mostly requires a modification of the production process. When manufacturing small series, preparation, setup, and programming of the machine park often take much longer than manufacture proper. “Machines equipped with additional intelligence and communicating with each other are expected to significantly reduce the changeover time,” says engineer Thomas Maier, Managing Director of KIT’s Institute for Information Management in Engineering (IMI). A machine equipped with camera sensors, for instance, can recognize any workpiece even in case of changing products. Having examined the workpiece’s shape and position, the machine can decide how to apply its gripper or suction caps and where to place the workpiece. Depending on the product, machines having gripping, welding, or bonding skills can determine their next task or production step. They “communicate” with neighboring machines and know whether they have to ask for a mobile robot to transport the product to the next workstation or the shipping department of the company.