The new way of working in a digital factory

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Norbert Gronau on working in a digital factory

Using Software in industrial production processes has been around since 1972 at the latest, when Günter Spur presented the first program-controlled machine tool with NC control on a PDP-11 at the EMO in Milan. In the meantime, a lot has happened and in German-speaking countries alone, about 1000 suppliers of factory software are competing for the use of their software in the digital factory.

While Manufacturing Execution Systems may have been revolutionary 15 years ago because they could deliver a new level of data integration at the level of detail required by the factory, the future competitiveness of the Digital Factory will depend on three right decisions:

First, an architecture is needed, that ensures the required long-term combinability while allowing permanent expandability for the numerous information systems used in the factory at any time. RAMI 4.0 and the Administration Shell are the first tentative steps on a long road ahead. A transformable architecture of a modern factory operating system was realized at our Center for Industry 4.0 in Potsdam where new technologies can be integrated and aggregated without major adaptational efforts.

The second dimension is related to the processes in the factory. Here, there will be considerably more scope for partially autonomous system elements in the future. The self-organization starts with the automatic configurability of factory systems and goes from the seamless and wireless integration of autonomous logistics and mobile robotics technologies as far as to the loosening of hierarchical decision-making structures on both the IT and the organizational side! Apart from a few exceptions, it seems that the awareness of the dimension of a modern factory has not yet reached far enough into practice.

To me however, the third dimension, the new role of people in the digital factory, seems to be most important. This role will greatly expand in the future. There will still be areas that will not (yet) achieve automation at a particularly economical price. However, the proportion of control, monitoring and maintenance of the tasks in the factory increases. The latter is particularly important in the event of a malfunction in the increasingly complex production system. Therefore, participation and further training need to be put on the agenda. Further training should be individualized and brought closer to operational processes and organizational principles. Participation can take place in learning factories and with the help of AR/VR directly at one's own workplace. Then it will be possible to create a successful model out of the new ways of working in a digital factory.

© Prof. Dr.-Ing. Norbert Gronau, November 12, 2020, published at www.prof-gronau.de