Common Machine Language Could Reinvent the Factory
Special software and data connectors will in future allow computers to produce graphical representations of new production lines automatically. Pictured: The production plant for the C-Class Mercedes in Bremen.
CREDIT: Daimler AG
Factories filled with the most sophisticated robots can still come to a screeching halt when they switch over to making a new car or smartphone. That's because each change in the assembly line requires a reprogramming of the overseer control system to make sure each piece of equipment works well with others. Now, a new plug-and-play solution could pave the way for smarter factories that adjust automatically to cranking out the latest gadgets.
German researchers teamed up with auto manufacturer Daimler AG to create a digital translator that converts the digital descriptions of many different factory devices into a single, standard machine language . Such a solution allows factory workers to simply plug a new device into the main control system PC with a USB cable similar to how consumers might plug a new mouse or monitor into their home computer.
"Once the data have started to flow, the computer can design a process-control plan for the new production line unaided," said Olaf Sauer, a division director at the Fraunhofer Institute for Optronics, System Technologies and Image Exploitation in Germany.
Today, human factory managers must manually type information about new devices into the central computer with a complex alphanumeric code. Tomorrow, the plug-and-play approach could let a device automatically identify itself to the main computer so that the assembly line can start up and workers can get back to work.
Sauer's team tried out its "factory DNA" decoding solution in a miniature scenario with two conveyor belts, a turntable and a testing device. The researchers have also begun devising a version that can work in real-world factories .
Daimler AG may represent the first company to use such a solution. It already manages as many as 2,000 machines in the factory where it makes the C-Class Mercedes compact car.