New acoustic monitoring system is more objective than human hearing

The Fraunhofer IDMT offers procedures for the end-of-line inspection of car parts, such as motors for seats, for the sake of automated quality analysis by means of airborne sound measurement.

In industrial production, the testing of machines and products by means of acoustic signals still takes a niche role. At the Hannover Messe 2017, Fraunhofer is exhibiting a cognitive system that detects erroneous sounds more objectively than the human ear. The technology has successfully passed the initial practical tests and there detected up to 99 percent of the errors.

In industrial production, it is crucial that the machines work and that the product does not have any defects. The production process is therefore continuously monitored. By humans, but also by more and more sensors, cameras, software and hardware. In most cases, machine-based automated testing is based on visual or physical criteria. Only people also use their ears naturally: if something sounds unusual, a person switches the machine off for safety. The problem is this: Everyone perceives noises somewhat differently. Whether something goes wrong is therefore rather a subjective feeling and presents an increased susceptibility to error.

Training with millions of data records

The Fraunhofer Institute for Digital Media Technology IDMT develops cognitive systems that accurately identify faults based on acoustic signals. The technological approach combines intelligent acoustic measurement technology and signal analysis, machine learning as well as data-safe, flexible data storage. “We integrate the intelligence of listening into the industrial condition control of machines and automated test systems for products,” explains Steffen Holly of IDMT’s “Industrial Media Applications” business unit. Once they have been trained, cognitive systems can hear more objectively than human hearing: instead of two ears, they have, so to speak, many thousands of them at their disposal, in the form of millions of neutral data records. Initial pilot projects with industry are already under way. The researchers have been able to detect up to 99 percent of the defects purely acoustically.

Assigning sounds distinctly

The scientists identify possible sources of noises and analyze their causes, create a noise model of the environment, and focus their microphones there. “It is ideal to simulate the human ear: it receives sounds through the air,” says Holly. From the total signal, the system calculates out background sounds, such as voices or from a forklift driving by. This is then repeatedly compared with previously determined, laboratory-pure reference noise. With the help of artificial neural networks, the scientists are gradually developing algorithms that are able to detect noises which occur from errors. “The cleaner the acoustic signal is, the better the cognitive system recognizes deviations,” Holly explains. The technology is so sensitive that it also displays nuances in error intensity and manages complex tasks. An example from the field of automotive production: In modern car seats, a large number of individual motors are installed, with the aid of which the driver can adjust his seat individually. The design of the motors is not the same, their noises are different and they are installed in different places. “In a pilot project with an automotive supplier, our acoustic monitoring system was able to detect all of the error sources perfectly”, Holly reports.

Flexible, secure data storage in the cloud

The Fraunhofer researchers are able to ensure the data security of the collected acoustic signals through user authorizations as well as rights and identity management. An example is the decoupling of real and virtual identities in order to not violate user rights when evaluating the data by different persons. Machines and test systems are usually installed in the production line. The researchers store their acoustic data records in a secure cloud. “We can react very flexibly to changes in the production process and adjust our cognitive system accordingly,” Holly mentions as an additional advantage.

Learn more: More objective than human hearing



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The 5G wireless communications standard is creating the conditions required for the tactile internet

via ELE Times

With data transfer rates of 10 gigabits a second and a latency of just one millisecond, the 5G wireless communications standard is creating the conditions required for the tactile internet. This in turn will open up the door to new industry, transportation and medical applications. Fraunhofer researchers work on the underlying technology and have developed practical concepts to solve one of the most challenging problems – high-speed low-latency data transfer that is also entirely reliable.

The new concepts and technologies will be on show at Hannover Messe 2017.

Developing and establishing the new 5G wireless communications standard is one of the most ambitious projects of our time. Several Fraunhofer Institutes are feverishly working to lay the practical foundations for the new technology. A glance at the performance data for 5G shows just how ambitious the task is. Successor to the current 4G wireless communications standard LTE, 5G is expected to achieve a data transfer rate of 10 gigabits a second, making it 30 times faster than LTE-based systems. Even more decisive is the latency: the Fraunhofer researchers are aiming for an ultralow latency of no more than one millisecond. What this means is that a machine controlled via 5G would respond so fast to commands that the person operating it would no longer perceive or realize any delay. Experts refer to this as the tactile internet, where all such devices or machines respond in real time. However, in addition to transfer speeds and latency, a special attention must be attached to reliability. When it comes to teleoperation or controlling traffic, the transfer of data must be entirely reliable and secure. Today, transmitting data wirelessly is still considerably more prone to glitches than sending it through shielded fiber optic cables. Wireless transmission may use versatile, adjustable antennas to help ensure the wireless signal is sent toward the receiver. Optimum signal processing and choosing certain frequencies that make use of reflections in buildings also help stabilize the flow of data.

5G – Driving Industrie 4.0

Despite the considerable technological challenges, the Fraunhofer researchers are confident that the first 5G products and solutions will soon be available. “We’ve already shown in the lab that it’s possible to transfer data at 10 gigabits a second with a latency of 1 millisecond and with absolute reliability. And we are ready to present solutions that can easily be applied to products in in some interesting application areas,” says Professor Slawomir Stanczak, co-head of the Wireless Communications and Networks department at the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications, Heinrich Hertz Institute, HHI. One area in which 5G will unleash its vast potential is Industrie 4.0. Here, ultrafast wireless connections would allow robots to be reliably controlled from afar as though their operators were standing next to them directing their movements with a joystick and buttons.

This spring will see the launch of the joint IC4F (Industrial Communication for Factories) project. Fraunhofer HHI is involved in the project and will be presenting details at Hannover Messe (Hall 2, Booth C16/C22) from April 24 to 28. Together with industry partners, researchers from two Fraunhofer Institutes are developing a reliable communications and computing infrastructure capable of transmitting data in real time. Here again, 5G has a major role to play. The project will receive over 10 million euros in funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and is part of the “PAiCE (Platforms | Additive Manufacturing | Imaging | Communication | Engineering) – digital technologies for industry” technology program.

Signal and information processing and learning at nodal points

Another important role is played by “edge computing,” which ensures that the information, generated by sensors for instance, is pre-filtered at the local nodal points before being transmitted over the network. What’s more, in edge computing certain functions are performed locally to keep latencies for time-sensitive tasks as low as possible. A way to further optimize data transfer is to use cognitive mechanisms at the level of network nodes. Transmission and receiving modules use intelligent algorithms and dynamic learning software to detect faults in advance and respond accordingly. “Let’s say a fork-lift truck in a factory drives past a machine and disrupts the transmission path. The system knows this in advance and either reroutes the transmission of data or initiates a timely response,” explains Stanczak.

Learn more: Industrie 4.0 in real time




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Electrochromic glass darkens automatically when the sun shines and in different colors

Photo Fraunhofer IAP
Organic monomers mixed into a special resin darken window glass.

Electrochromic glass darkens automatically when the sun shines and keeps the heat out. Previously it was available only in blue, and switching times were also long. Now, a new process makes it possible to manufacture other glass colors for the first time. And compared to previous models, switching is nearly ten times faster.
  • Applying voltage enables smart glass to darken or brighten accordingly.
  • Previously only available in blue and with long switching times. 
  • A new process facilitates faster electrochromic glass panes in different colors.

In winter, when the sun sets earlier in the afternoon, people are happy to catch every last sunbeam. On hot summer days, however, office workers are keen to do without extra heat from the sun. Electrochromic glass offers a solution: When it’s gloomy outside, the glass remains transparent and lets through light and heat. But when the sun is blazing, the windows darken to keep most of the heat outside. These panes shimmer in a lovely shade of blue – up to now, other colors were not possible.

Quick-change artist

Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm, in cooperation with TILSE FORMGLAS GmbH, have now developed a new manufacturing method for such electrochromic glass panes. The project is sponsored by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). “Not only can we manufacture panes of glass in a wide range of colors, but we also achieve a much faster switching time than previous models,” says Dr. Volker Eberhardt, a scientist at Fraunhofer IAP.

How do electrochromic panes work? In most cases, manufacturers use glass that has been coated with a thin film of translucent indium tin oxide or the less expensive fluorine-doped tin oxide. This coating makes the glass electrically conductive. Two panes are required to make a smart window pane. First, one of the panes receives a second, vapor-deposited coating consisting of electrochromic tungsten oxide. Next, the panes are layered on top of each other with the coatings facing each other and a gel-like electrolyte in between. When a voltage is applied to the glass, the tungsten oxide coating darkens. When the polarization is reversed, the pane brightens again. This takes time – in the case of large windows of two to three square meters, it may take up to 15 to 20 minutes before the pane is completely darkened.

Organic monomers ensure darkening effect

Fraunhofer IAP’s researchers are focusing on a different technology to darken the panes. “We use organic monomers that have been mixed into specially developed resin,” says Eberhardt. Although the researchers are using glass panes coated with tin oxide as an initial substrate, just like existing processes do, they are skipping the second coating. Instead, they layer the panes with the tin oxide coating facing inwards and fill the space between them with the resin and electrochromic molecule mix. The resin is then cured using heat or UV radiation. Next, the researchers apply direct current to ensure that the monomers on an electrode bond to form an electrochromic polymer.

This means that the pane can be switched at a significantly lower voltage. Meanwhile, using an organic colorant offers various advantages. For one thing, by selecting other monomers, it will be possible to install red or purple panes in the future. Furthermore, monomers react significantly faster. “A 1.2-square-meter pane can darken in just 20 to 30 seconds; the standard tungsten-oxide-based electrochromic system would take at least ten minutes for that,” says Eberhardt.

Safe and stable panes

Sturdiness is also a point in favor for the new process. “We tested the stability of our new electrochromic panes in accordance with applicable DIN standards. Even a pane comprising just two layers is sturdy enough for use as overhead glazing or in surfaces meant to be walked on. Previously you needed many more for that,” says Eberhardt. With the special resin, this means that it is possible to save on material costs because only two panes are needed instead of three or four. For the first time, these can also be electrochromically switched. Furthermore, the glass is also suitable for ship building. The researchers have already produced a prototype of the electrochromic resin glazing. While their current prototype switches to blue, in the next step researchers plan to implement other colors such as red.

 Learn more: Automatically darkening windows in a wide range of colors


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New app using an ordinary smartphone can tell if an apple has been treated with pesticides and more

Photo Fraunhofer IFF
It will soon be possible to use smartphones to scan apples for pesticide.

A new app from Fraunhofer development engineers looks directly inside objects and displays specific constituents. It has numerous uses: For instance, apples can be scanned for pesticide residues. Applications will be added successively following the Wikipedia principle.
  • New smartphone app looks inside objects.
  • “HawkSpex® mobile” displays constituents.
  • Hardware accessories are not required for cameras.

An apple is labeled “organic” but the customer doesn’t know if it really hasn’t been sprayed or, if the seller’s description is to be believed, if a car has never been in an accident. Unverifiable information has to be accepted in many situations. The “HawkSpex® mobile” app from the Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg will enable consumers to verify such information in the future. The principle: Take out your smartphone, open the app, aim it at the object being scanned – such as an apple – and get the desired information, for instance, whether an apple contains pesticide residues.

Although systems that perform such scans already exist, users usually have to clamp additional parts such as a prism onto the front of the integrated camera. This is costly and impractical and additionally interferes with a smartphone’s design. “What makes our app special is that users don’t need anything for a scan other than the camera already integrated in their smartphones,” says Prof. Udo Seiffert, Expert Group Manager at the Fraunhofer IFF.

No hyperspectral camera required

How did the development engineers working with project manager Dr. Andreas Herzog manage to get by without a prism? Such scans usually require a special hyperspectral camera: It adjusts to different colored light each time and ascertains how much of a color’s light is reflected by an object, thus generating a complete spectral fingerprint of the object. The development engineers use a mathematical model to extract just about any information on an object, e.g. its constituents, from its spectral fingerprint. “Since hyperspectral cameras aren’t integrated in smartphones, we simply reversed this principle,” explains Seiffert. “The camera gives us a broadband three-channel sensor, that is, one that scans every wavelength and illuminates an object with different colored light.” This means that, instead of the camera measuring luminous intensity in different colors, the display successively illuminates the object with a series of different colors for fractions of a second. Thus, if the display casts only red light on the object, the object can only reflect red light – and the camera can only measure red light. Intelligent analysis algorithms enable the app to compensate a smartphone’s limited computing performance as well as the limited performance of the camera and display.

The first laboratory version of the app is finished. The engineers are developing a variety of initial applications before it can be released to private users, though. The system first has to be taught with reference scans how to analyze whether apples contain pesticides. Seiffert is hoping that the “HawkSpex® mobile” app might be launched on the market around the end of 2017.

Reference scans are not always needed, though. Some problems only require measuring different distributions of substances or materials rather than specifying individual constituents. Purchasing a car is one example: In this case, the app compares paint to determine whether it is exactly the same color everywhere or has been touched up.

Users will add applications – much like Wikipedia

“There are so many conceivable uses that the market will surely overrun us,” says Seiffert with certainty. That is why the development engineers are relying on an approach modeled after the online encyclopedia Wikipedia. “Once the app is launched on the market by the end of this year, active users will be able to contribute to the whole big thing and create new applications, for instance, that test pesticide exposure of heads of lettuce, by teaching the system such problems,” says Seiffert. This means they would use the app to scan different types of treated and untreated heads of lettuce and send the data to the Fraunhofer IFF. The development engineers would verify the measurements and release the app to all users.

The app has extremely interesting commercial potential, too, and can be used to develop sectors that wouldn’t really benefit from high precision scanners. Examples include quality control of foods, the effectiveness of cosmetic products or even agriculture: Farmers, for instance, could easily obtain information on whether their crops are sufficiently supplied with nutrients or fertilizer is needed.

Learn more: App reveals constituents



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The Latest on: HawkSpex® mobile
  • Year overview February 2017
    on December 4, 2017 at 6:03 am

    With the ‘HawkSpex mobile’ application created by Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg, consumers will have the opportunity to open their app, aim the camera at ...

  • Fraunhofer smartphone app looks inside objects
    on February 13, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    The so-called HawkSpex will also enable consumers to quickly discover whether a car has been in an accident and resprayed. The IFF says that the mobile app could significantly enhance user’s knowledge ...

  • New app checks fruit and vegetables for chemical residues
    on February 8, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Often you have to trust these statements, without the opportunity to check them. With the ‘HawkSpex mobile’ application created by Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in ...

  • HawkSpex: This app can scan any object and reveals what’s inside
    on February 8, 2017 at 9:18 am

    Smartphones have come a long way in the last few years. With the advancement in mobile technology, they can now run the most graphic intensive games, capture DSLR level pictures, multitask with an ...

  • ‘HawkSpex mobile’ app scans objects and reveals information
    on February 7, 2017 at 4:30 pm

    The “HawkSpex mobile” app developed by engineers from Fraunhofer Institute for Factory Operation and Automation IFF in Magdeburg (Germany) gives the information about the objects by aiming the ...

  • App reveals constituents
    on February 6, 2017 at 7:33 am

    A new app looks directly inside objects and displays specific constituents. It has numerous uses: For instance, apples can be scanned for pesticide residues. Applications will be added successively ...

  • CSI, Smartphone: Using just a camera, this app conducts a spectral analysis
    on February 3, 2017 at 12:39 pm

    Traditional spectral analysis cameras use prisms and specialized sensors to ... the camera can analyze the object’s content without needing that built-in prism. HawkSpex is currently only a laboratory ...

  • CSI, Smartphone: Using just a camera, this app conducts a spectral analysis
    on February 2, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Fraunhofer Institute, a research company based in Germany, announced Thursday HawkSpex Mobile, an app that can conduct a spectral analysis without any accessories. Traditional spectral analysis ...

  • This app uses spectral analysis to analyze objects and their makeup
    on February 1, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    But this app is from veteran R&D group Fraunhofer — so it may very well be the real thing. The app is called HawkSpex mobile, and it performs a spectral analysis on whatever you point it at — a widely ...

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OLED electrodes from graphene are finally here

Photo Fraunhofer FEP
Orange luminous OLED on a graphene electrode. The two-euro coin serves as a comparison of sizes.

For the first time, it has been possible to produce functional OLED electrodes from graphene. The process was developed by Fraunhofer researchers together with partners from industry and research. The OLEDs can, for example, be integrated into touch displays, and the miracle material graphene promises many other applications for the future.
  • Flexible OLED electrodes from graphene
  • The perfect material: transparent, stable, flexible, conductive
  • Ideal for touch screens, photovoltaic, wearables and much more

The Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP from Dresden, together with partners, has succeeded for the first time in producing OLED electrodes from graphene. The electrodes have an area of 2 × 1 square centimeters. “This was a real breakthrough in research and integration of extremely demanding materials,” says FEP’s project leader Dr. Beatrice Beyer. The process was developed and optimized in the EU-funded project “Gladiator” (Graphene Layers: Production, Characterization and Integration) together with partners from industry and research.

Graphene is considered a new miracle material. The advantages of the carbon compound are impressive: graphene is light, transparent and extremely hard and has more tensile strength than steel. Moreover, it is flexible and extremely conductive for heat or electricity. Graphene consists of a single layer of carbon atoms which are assembled in a kind of honeycomb pattern. It is only 0.3 nanometers thick, which is about one hundred thousandth of a human hair. Graphene has a variety of applications – for example, as a touchscreen in smartphones.

Chemical reaction of copper, methane and hydrogen

The production of the OLED electrodes takes place in a vacuum. In a steel chamber, a wafer plate of high-purity copper is heated to about 800 degrees. The research team then supplies a mixture of methane and hydrogen and initiates a chemical reaction. The methane dissolves in the copper and forms carbon atoms, which spread on the surface. This process only takes a few minutes. After a cooling phase, a carrier polymer is placed on the graphene and the copper plate is etched away.

Gladiator project was launched in November 2013. The Fraunhofer team is working on the next steps until the conclusion in April 2017. During the remainder of the project, impurities and defects which occur during the transfer of the wafer-thin graphene to another carrier material are to be minimized. The project is supported by the EU Commission with a total of 12.4 million euros. The Fraunhofer Institute’s important industrial partners are the Spanish company Graphenea S.A., which is responsible for the production of the graphene electrodes, as well as the British Aixtron Ltd., which is responsible for the construction of the production CVD reactors.

Applications from photovoltaics to medicine

“The first products could already be launched in two to three years”, says Beyer with confidence. Due to their flexibility, the graphene electrodes are ideal for touch screens. They do not break when the device drops to the ground. Instead of glass, one would use a transparent polymer film. Many other applications are also conceivable: in windows, the transparent graphene could regulate the light transmission or serve as an electrode in polarization filters. Graphene can also be used in photovoltaics, high-tech textiles and even in medicine.

Learn more: Milestone in graphene production



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