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The networkers

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Bodyshells and robots that communicate with one another.

Networked machines that organize themselves. What sounds like science fiction will soon be reality in the Smart Factory. Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl, Member of the Board of Management of AUDI AG responsible for Production, and Prof. Dr. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer Society, talk about the intelligent factory of the future.

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Networked robots and parts. Machines that organize and optimize themselves. People who work with the best possible support. Cycles that make best use of materials and resources – that’s the Smart Factory.

Dr. Neugebauer, what does the trending term “Industry 4.0” actually mean?

Dr. Neugebauer:
Industry 4.0 is a synonym for the fourth industrial revolution. The invention of the steam engine at the end of the 18th century marks the first industrial revolution. 100 years later, electricity arrived in our factory halls and the production line established itself. We now refer to that as the second industrial revolution or Industry 2.0.
This made the automobile a product for the masses because it halved in price. Then in the 1970s, electronics and IT drove automation and digitalization. That was Industry 3.0. Robots and computers in production became standard practice. Industry 4.0 goes one step further. Machines and even materials are being networked via the cloud. Thanks to microchips and Big Data, they are communicating wirelessly and will soon be organizing and optimizing themselves, i.e. a Smart Factory.

Car making as we know it today won’t exist anymore. Faster, more efficient, more sustainable – that’s the production of the future.

Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl


RFID chips, augmented reality and virtual manufacturing have long been part of Audi Production. Is Industry 4.0 really that revolutionary?

Dr. Waltl:
Eight years ago, Audi toolmakers from Ingolstadt carried out maintenance on equipment in China for the first time – from here in their office in Germany. Even then, Audi was using data connections via the internet for remote maintenance. Therefore, for me, Industry 4.0 is not revolutionary. The networking of the complete production system is more akin to evolution.

Dr. Neugebauer:
I see it differently. Evolution does the groundwork for revolution, even if the technologies associated with Industry 4.0 establish themselves in a more evolutionary way. The true effects and opportunities are not yet foreseeable. Their potential is far from being exhausted. The revolution is still ahead of us.

Prof. Dr. Reimund Neugebauer

Whether it’s an evolution or revolution, what will the Smart Factory of the future look like?

Dr. Waltl:
Car making as we currently know it won’t exist anymore. The Taylorist system, production line rhythm – all of it will be history. Perhaps there won’t even be a production line anymore. We need more flexible assembly processes.

Dr. Neugebauer:
That’s the big difference to Industry 3.0. Stability was required to make automation work. Today, product life cycles are shorter. The start of new products must be realized in less and less time. Automakers have broader model lineups – that calls for flexibility.

Dr. Waltl:
That’s why Audi has developed future scenarios for flexible production models. Bodyshells, for instance, are running through the production halls on driverless transportation systems (FTS). They are moving from station to station and know exactly which employee currently has available capacity. People and robots build the car together at so-called competence islands in a workshop principle. Small robots drive freely around, communicating with the FTS and delivering the required parts at the right time to the right stations.


Dr. Neugebauer:
New materials also have a role to play. Many automakers are currently already working with a mixed-material approach. Bodyshells are being made from steel, aluminum and carbon. Biomass materials will become increasingly important in future. Perhaps we’ll soon be building bodyshells from cotton, hemp and wooden fibers. This is one of our research projects from the application center for wood-fiber research in Braunschweig.

Dr. Waltl:
New materials and drives obviously also change the vehicle structure, making virtual planning all the more important. Audi has already been testing production steps in the virtual world for the past ten years. 3D glasses and gesture control, for instance are being used to test whether assembly in the engine bay is ergonomic for the technicians concerned. This enables us to identify possible problems long before they appear on the production line.



Dr. Neugebauer:
And even if a problem arises in the production process, all the machines, materials and components in the Smart Factory are networked with one another. They identify the problem either before it happens, or they deal with it themselves. If that doesn’t work, they alert an employee to the malfunction in real time, perhaps even with proposed solutions.

That sounds like a factory without people.

Dr. Neugebauer:
No, quite the opposite, in fact. People are still important wherever creativity is required. Where algorithms are unable to address the problem and only creative thinking can come up with a solution. It’s not about replacing people, but about providing them with the best possible support from machines.

Dr. Waltl:
One simple example would be, if there’s a production failure today, identifying the problem is a major stress for the employee. Every second of downtime costs a lot of money. However, if he has an intelligent diagnosis system that searches for the error on his behalf, the employee saves time and can concentrate fully on the solution. Robots also assist people in the assembly area. We have been using small robots without protective barriers for the last two years. The employees on the line love them. One of these robots, for instance, hands the components to the technician, enabling him to work without putting strain on his back. All these innovations were invented by people and not by algorithms. This means people will still be the engine of production in future.

"It’s not about replacing people, but about providing them with the best possible support from machines and data."



UNITED BY THE THRILL OF INNOVATION – Two production experts discussing the future of automotive manufacturing.

Is Industry 4.0 changing the classic trades and professions in automotive production?

Dr. Waltl:
We will never be able to do completely without solid training in manual skills. At the same time, knowledge from the interfaces between electronics and mechanics will become increasingly important. I completed my training as a toolmaker around 40 years ago. Back then, I was still working with a slide rule. In Toolmaking today, we need software experts who program the sensors in the intelligent tool. We need network architects to enable our machines to communicate with one another and with people. Programming codes will soon become the most important foreign languages in production.



Dr. Neugebauer:
When it comes to media use and habits, as well as IT affinity, the production workers and engineers of the future are part of the smartphone generation. This is a development that we have to grasp and run with, in the interests of innovation. Mobile devices, like tablet PCs and smartphones, are finding their way into the production and factory environment. Guaranteeing availability of the right information at the right time and in the right place will become a key criterion for productivity.

"Programming codes will soon become the most important foreign languages in production."



The Fraunhofer Society and Audi have been working on joint research for the last eight years. What is driving this Industry 4.0 cooperation?

Dr. Neugebauer:
The Fraunhofer Society conducts applied research. We build bridges between science and commerce. With our 66 institutes and facilities, we see ourselves as an engine of innovation for the German economy. We generate a lot of innovations because companies like Audi approach us with questions from real-world situations. For us, this results in interesting research questions; and for Audi, additional innovation impetus. One example is our E³ research factory. It represents production under real-life conditions. We’re working there in cooperation with the Volkswagen Group to research technologies for the future.

Dr. Waltl:
This all began ten years ago when I had the idea of making tools intelligent. A lot of my colleagues mocked me, until one day, I told Professor Neugebauer about it. He was very enthusiastic. We worked together to develop a press tool that can think. It has been in use at Audi for the past five years. Sensors and mechatronic actuators in the press determine how the blank is drawn in based on how well lubricated it is. This gives us considerably higher press quality and reduces rejects, by as much as 30 percent in some cases.

The industrial revolutions of Audi


Intelligent tools, machines that organize themselves – what does that bring to the company?

Dr. Neugebauer:
Germany scores highly for the flexibility and innovative power of its companies. We have to push that further. If companies producing in Germany want to remain competitive, they will have to use the productivity, flexibility and cost benefits of Industry 4.0. Studies show that productivity increases of 20 percent can be achieved in the next ten years through the use of Industry 4.0 technologies. In automotive engineering, that equates to an estimated potential added value of 15 billion euros.


And how does Audi benefit from Industry 4.0?

Dr. Waltl:
The production of the future will be faster, more efficient and more sustainable. And real-time data will form an important foundation for it. If data is captured from development, through sales, logistics and production all the way to delivery, we can adapt processes better to one another. Cooperation across international facilities would also be even easier.




Flexibility is an important fundamental idea of Industry 4.0. What might even more flexible production at Audi look like, Dr. Waltl?

Dr. Waltl:
If machines agree among themselves, production will be so flexible at some point that every model could be built at any Audi plant across the world. That would save us a lot of money on transportation costs. The issue of speed is also a major benefit of the Smart Factory. We are already reaping the benefits of virtual planning. Months used to go by from building a facility installation to the start of series production – now it’s just a matter of weeks. Robot movements, for instance, are virtually tested and optimized in advance.

If German companies want to remain
competitive, they will have to
use the productivity, flexibility and
cost benefits of Industry 4.0.


Prof. Dr. Reimund Neugebauer studied Mechanical Engineering at the Technical University of Dresden, where he gained his doctorate in 1984 and his professorship in 1989. Following management positions in industry, he was appointed as a lecturer at TU Dresden in 1989. In 1991, he became Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology IWU with locations in Chemnitz, Dresden, Augsburg and Zittau. In 1993, he was appointed Professor of Machine Tool Design and Forming Technology at the TU Chemnitz and has been Managing Director of the University Institute for Machine Tools and Production Processes since 2000. On October 1, 2012, he took office as President of the Fraunhofer Society.

What effect will Industry 4.0 have on the automobile as a product?

Dr. Neugebauer:
One-unit production runs will be far more frequent. When the customer configures his car today, he has countless options. But, in future, cars won’t be differentiated by their color or their steering wheel. They’ll stand out for their personalized features, such as a seat adapted perfectly to the size of the customer. The car as a bespoke item – that’s the future.

Dr. Waltl:
In the age of the Smart Factory, car dealerships could have a scanner that reads the size of the customer in 3D and sends the information directly to the production line. 3D printers can then manufacture an individual seat or gearknob. While the car is being built, it could e-mail a photo to the customer after important assembly steps. He can then make changes at short notice, because the production will be able to react far more flexibly to them than before.


But things aren’t that far yet. What has to happen to make the shift from Industry 3.0 to Industry 4.0?

Dr. Waltl:
We have to think today about the qualifications our employees are going to need in future. We have to prepare them for new jobs through further training, especially in the area of IT. We also need to think about tomorrow in terms of new investments. A machine needs the necessary interfaces into order to link into the Smart Factory network at some point. Plus, we need even more intelligent machines with sensors that capture data. This is the only way we can use the opportunities presented by data gathering and analysis.


Dr. Neugebauer:
International standards for interfaces will provide an important framework. Then we also have to push forward with the expansion of the broadband network. Our data transfer rates are far too low right now. Industry has to be able to process data in real time. Data security is another issue. What we have today is a vision of Industry 4.0, but there are a whole lot of challenges to address before we can realize the Smart Factory.



Dr. Waltl:
I’m confident that we’ll be able to move forward a great deal here in the years ahead. We have a highly motivated team at Audi – people with lots of good ideas. Cooperations like the long-standing one we have with the Fraunhofer Society will also drive forward progress in production. You’ll be surprised by what Audi Production will look like a few decades from now.

A car like a made-to-measure suit. Thanks to 3D printing, this could soon become reality. Audi is already working with 3D printers.They produce parts in plastic and even in steel.



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