Smart objects in manufacturing

In the R2D Road to Digital Production research project, smart objects control processes

© Fraunhofer IIS
Smart objects for IoT applications.

A trend for many manufacturing companies is the increasing customization of production. For manufacturing processes down to a batch size of one, production and supplementary parts must be available in the right quantity, in the right place and at the right time for assembly. Particularly for complex work processes in assembly, a whole range of information is required about the workpieces and how to fit them, along with further process and product data.

In the R2D Road to Digital Production research project for the digitalization of industrial manufacturing, we demonstrate how so-called smart objects can control and monitor the production process through decentralized decision-making. Workpieces are fitted with electronic tags that possess communication and positioning capabilities. These smart objects are integrated into a communication network. Using the individual data supplied with the product and the contextual information acquired through localization and sensors, the smart workpiece is able to autonomously recognize and log process steps and control production for small batch sizes.

This means, for example, that job data is stored on the electronic tag right at the start of the production process. By virtue of the positioning technology, the tag recognizes when it enters individual manufacturing cells, establishes contact with the tools (e.g. screwdrivers) and systems available there and exchanges product information and other data with them. In this way, the worker can be informed directly which components and small parts to fit. The information is delivered using a pick-by-local-light system, which the smart workpiece can actuate directly. In addition, the smart workpiece can communicate a job order to a smart screwdriver. The smart screwdriver monitors the work steps for the job and shares the job status with both the worker and the electronic tag.

In the R2D project, which is funded by the Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs as part of the “Bayern Digital” initiative, these and other technologies are being developed and tested by Fraunhofer IIS, Fraunhofer SCS and various companies under the project leadership of Siemens AG.