The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) - process in factories become transparent
When we talk about the Internet of Things for any length of time, then we inevitably get on to the subject of Industry 4.0 – after all, the two topics are virtually inextricable. As Industry 4.0 takes hold, factory workflows will become transparent and products will control their manufacture themselves. That only works, however, if workpieces possess information about themselves and can communicate with other objects and with their environment. This is where the s-net® communications technology developed by researchers at Fraunhofer IIS comes in. “s-net® allows products, for instance, to monitor themselves and to control their manufacture – and to do so energyefficiently,” says Jürgen Hupp, who heads the Communication Networks department at Fraunhofer IIS. “In addition, the individual wireless nodes network with each other autonomously.” In everyday terms, that means: if you attach the wireless nodes to a workpiece, they connect autonomously to the network and forward on data recorded by sensors: things such as temperature or vibration strength. However, this is not the limit of the technology’s potential by any means: even when it comes to tracking – in other words, determining the position of workpieces on the factory grounds – s-net® provides useful services. Using anchor nodes with fixed positions, the mobile nodes attached to the workpieces can determine where they currently are and send this data to a receiver. In the future, s-net® will even be able to make manufacturing itself easier, as the wireless nodes on products will enable them to become intelligent. For example, snet® will allow a product to light up the shelves containing the parts to be fitted when it arrives at an assembly cell. The wireless nodes then know which production step is due and when. Currently the scientists are using s-net® to monitor the condition of cargo in sea containers by means of wireless nodes on the pallets. These nodes network with each other autonomously in the container and deliver the information from the pallet to a telematics box outside the container. As the transmission path from the nodes to the box contains many obstacles, most nodes do not send their data directly to the box, but send it first to other nodes who then forward it. This is sometimes referred to as multi-hop communication.
Logistics goods reveal their identity at entrance to warehouse
The advantages of objects revealing information about themselves and their condition are not restricted to shipping containers, but apply to large warehouses as well. After all, these places are full of hustle and bustle, as one forklift truck after another carries pallets loaded to the brim with goods into the warehouse. Logisticians would love to know at a stroke what is stacked on the pallets without having to unload everything and check. This is hardly surprising: pallets can be loaded with a large number of parts. For this reason, manufacturers provide the individual products with RFID chips. If a forklift drives into the hall, it passes a special gate to which a reader is attached. The reader sends a signal to the chips via an an- tenna, and the chips “wake up” and send their ID number back. It is a very practical system. However, there has been a recurring problem with RFID chips being so buried and hidden on the pallet that the reader does not get the signal. To remedy this problem, researchers from Fraunhofer IIS have optimized the process: “We’ve replaced the simple antenna on the reader with our innovative multibeam antenna,” explains Dr. Mario Schühler, whose group researches antenna technologies at the institute. “In the multi-beam antenna, several antennas are effectively merged together, sending out beams in five different directions.” It reads the pallet from the front as it approaches the gate, then from various directions from the side, and finally from the back. This means it can reach RFID chips that conventional antennas would miss and also assign directionality to the objects. Another advantage is that the multi-beam antenna can be used worldwide. Although the U.S., Europe, and Japan all work with different frequencies for reading data, the antenna works for all frequency ranges.
Monitoring and optimizing »object taxis« in factories
Once the products have passed through this incoming control at the warehouse, they are often brought to where they are needed on little tow trains. But which routes should these industrial vehicles take? At what times are there bottlenecks? How can the process be optimized? The positioning technology awiloc® answers precisely these kinds of questions. Small boxes travel on the vehicle and continuously record their location. “The big advantage of the technology is that it is designed for use with existing structures, making it very easy to install,” says Steffen Meyer, who heads the Cooperative Systems and Positioning group at Fraunhofer IIS. In the case of industrial vehicles, this means: the positioning is based on WLAN, which many companies already have in place. Before the system can get started, the researchers drive the various routes and create a typical signal strength pattern. How strongly are the different stations signaling at which point? Based on this reference data, the system recognizes where the box – and therefore the vehicle – is. The researchers can use awiloc® to record the actual situation. They then work with their colleagues in the Supply Chain Services (SCS) working group at Fraunhofer IIS to figure out how to optimize the journeys.
On October 15, 2015, the positioning technology awiloc® received second prize in the Impact Delivered category at the annual EARTO awards, which have been acknowledging outstanding examples of applied research since 2009. EARTO selects projects with the poten tial to initiate a transformation in society or business. And that is certainly the case with all Fraunhofer IIS’s developments relating to the Internet of Things.