The integration of ultra-modern information and communication technology in manufacturing – the so-called Industry 4.0 – is fully underway. Research institutes and companies have been working for years on the development of innovative processes in order to link plant technology, IT systems and business administration models more strongly. As the motor of the German economy, small and medium-sized manufacturing businesses are becoming increasingly significant fordigitisation. SmartFactoryOWL located in thetown of Lemgo in East Westphalia-Lippe – one of the world’s most modern research factories – would like to support small and medium-sized enterprises on their way to digitised manufacturing.
SmartFactoryOWL is a joint establishment of the university of East Westphalia – Lippe and the Fraunhofer Institute IOSB-INA in Lemgo with the purpose of providing scientific support of new Industry 4.0 technologies, testing them in practice and making them accessible to small and medium-sized companies. “We not only want to be apioneer in the area of Industry 4.0 but want to bring these technologies to companies, in particular small and medium-sized ones,” says Professor Dr. Jürgen Jasperneite, director of the Fraunhofer Application Centre IOSB-INA in Lemgo and initiator of SmartFactoryOWL.
The contact to companies is often established via chambers of commerce with which SmartFactoryOWL cooperates closely. Sometimes companies also contact the competence centre Digital in NRWdirectly. This was, for example, the case regarding the company hp polytechnik in Iserlohn.” What we saw during our visit to SmartFactoryOWL as far as application possibilities are concerned convinced us to have a closer look at the options digitisation brings and pinpoint concrete ways to implement this,“ says Matthias Hellebrandt, one of the two managing directors of hp polytechnik. SmartFactoryOWL carried out a so-called quick check at the company for sheet metal working. To this end Nissrin Perez, engineer at the head office of SmartFactoryOWL, visited the company in the Sauerland. Together with the company she determined the digitisation potential as well as optimisation possibilities on site and gave concrete tips for further steps. [For more information on the cooperation of hp polytechnik and the SmartFactoryOWL please read on here…]
“Industry 4.0 is a digital journey which we are encouraging companies to go on. It is important for us to work out solutions together with the companies and in doing so involve the employees right from the beginning,” Nissrin Perez explains. She knows from experience that once a company has taken the first step it will soon realise how even small changes can already lead to profits.
“The quick check and potential analysis have shown us where we stand in comparison to competitors and what possibilities there are to optimise various manufacturing and processing areas by way of digitisation. I can only recommend other companies to cooperate with SmartFactoryOWL ,” says Matthias Hillebrandt.
Experiencing Industry 4.0 in practice
On approximately 2000 square metres at SmartFactoryOWL visitors can see demonstrators and machines in currently three areas of technology. In one part of the hall there is the additive manufacturing area where it is shown what is already possible today in individual manufacturingusing 3-D print technology. In the second hall area it is demonstrated at assistance workplaces how different digitisation technology can support assembly processes. The third area contains demonstrators for flexible manufacturing and adaptable manufacturing systems. Here it is demonstrated by way of a production line how different modules of various manufacturers can be linked with each other so that they speak a uniform “digital language” and can be integrated in a fully automatic production process. This not only applies for “mass production” but also for piece production.
On the one hand scientists and students test in practice what has been created in laboratories in theory and could only be tested on small models so far. On the other hand companies gain an insight into what is also possible for small and medium-sized enterprises due to digitisation.
The concept of SmartFactoryOWL is based on three pillars. 1.) Research and development. 2.) Qualification. SmartFactory offers training sessions, seminars and further training to show SMEs what the term 4.0 means, convey technologies and know-how and enable them to use these technologies for themselves. 3.) Transfer. The employees at SmartFactoryOWL go out and visit companies to determine their digitisation potential and implement this in focussed transfer projects together with the employees on site.
Costs and funding possibilities for small and medium-sized enterprises
The first steps from a visit to SmartFactoryOWL to potential consulting on site as well as seminars and training sessions are usually free of charge for the companies involved. Companies only have costs to pay if they decide to implement projects or call on external assistance. Also in this respect SmartFactoryOWL has corresponding know-how and can advise small and medium-sized enterprises on funding programmes, support them with applications and link them to all the necessary competences.