There are various ways in which artificial intelligence (AI) can help make manufacturing more flexible and resilient. These include the automated capture of data with which to show where production operations can be optimized, the introduction of software for smart shift planning, and the use of AI-based AR systems to provide support for employees working in assembly. As manufacturing shifts further in the direction of Industrie 4.0, the most significant change in this sector is the growth in use of autonomous systems. This means that production systems are not merely connected to their environment but also operate in an autonomous, adaptive, self-learning and predictive way. In other words, they use all available data to identify and analyze errors and then devise an appropriate solution. This enables a more sustainable use of resources as well as a reduction in emissions. In this kind of adaptive work environment, human employees are able to oversee processes, work more efficiently and take on control tasks that are less rigid in nature. “We show that Industrie 4.0 is no longer a bold vision and that it has long since become part of everyday industrial reality,” explains Dr. Moritz Hämmerle, project manager for the Future Work Lab at Fraunhofer IAO. “The advent of smart services, end-to-end data management and new forms of human-machine interaction has set new standards of digital performance across entire sectors of industry.”
Future Work Lab showcases the use of AI in manufacturing
At the Future Work Lab, the two Stuttgart-based Fraunhofer Institutes for Industrial Engineering IAO and for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA are showcasing over 50 demonstrators from across the spectrum of future working environments in manufacturing industry. “Digital technology offers us new opportunities to design human-centered assistance systems for use in manufacturing,” says Simon Schumacher, project manager for the Future Work Lab at Fraunhofer IPA. “At the Future Work Lab, we demonstrate the potential uses of cognitive and physical assistance systems in industrial manufacturing environments.” On April 16, 2021, the two institutes are holding an International Open Lab Day. This will take the form of a virtual tour of the facility, thereby opening it up for the first time exclusively to visitors from outside Germany. Manufacturing experts will guide online participants through a live inspection of the lab and showcase a range of new AI demonstrators. This will feature both demonstrators already available on the market and those that have been developed specifically for the Future Work Lab in order to showcase the concrete benefits of customized assistance for employees working in manufacturing. Included here will be the following demonstrators:
- Plug-and-play data capture and process optimization: Combining a modular sensor system and the use of AI-based algorithms for process recognition, this portable and flexible all-in-one data-capture tool automatically detects where manufacturing operations can be optimized.
- AR support on the assembly line: AR glasses with object recognition are now being increasingly used to assist assembly line workers. For this purpose, the object recognition software must be trained in advance with a large volume of high-quality data. With the help of AI, this training can be automated.
- AI-based support for smart shift planning: Smart shift planning enables shifts to be changed at short notice. It also features flexible time management for periods of economic downturn or upswing and provides employees with attractive working hours. AI assists with customized shift planning.
- xAI – Explainable artificial intelligence for neural networks: An increase in the use of AI-based systems has led to a growing demand for an explanation of how these systems function and how they make decisions. Here, greater transparency can help increase the acceptance of AI as a tool used to assist employees in the workplace.
International networking and knowledge-sharing
The Future Work Lab was opened in February 2017. It is Germany’s largest facility for the investigation of the impact of Industrie 4.0 on manufacturing industry. Over an area of around 1000 square meters, it provides visitors with an initial impression of future working environments in manufacturing industry. Since its opening in 2017, it has received more that 13,000 visitors from around the world, mostly in conjunction with the regularly held Open Lab Days. The International Open Lab Day will focus on the key challenges that manufacturing companies must now confront as a result of digital transformation. It is therefore hoped that the event will also help build international networks and promote knowledge-sharing among like-minded people.