Since 2014, the SmartFactory Kaiserslautern has been gaining hands-on experience with the construction of the world's first Industry 4.0 demonstrator. We have been intensively analysing what we have learned for several years now. In doing so, we factor in current scientific knowledge, new AI Methods and increasing amounts of data, and do this in conjunction with the question of how to interpret this in a way that makes sense and how this can all be implemented profitably. Industry 4.0 is an agile vision for which we’re now providing an update: Production Level 4.
In our view, the future lies in a modular and agile production structure in which people, machines and software are understood as a single unit. Still, the sovereign entity and decision-maker is the working person, the worker on site. IT and machines are under his control and are there to support him.
Why this term?
The ‘4’ in Production Level 4 refers to the continuation of Industry 4.0. We want to learn from the experience of recent years and further develop Industry 4.0. The ‘4’ also refers to the 4th level of autonomous production, in which humans continue to play a role.
What is the goal of Production Level 4?
Production Level 4 refers to the increase in manufacturing robustness through the use of agile responsiveness to external influences, based on artificial intelligence methods. Our goal is to increase transparency via automated data processing for the employee so that he can understand machine-made decisions at all times. This allows him to change or optimise processes at will.
Production Level 4 assumes that machines are developed, built and programmed in such a way that they “know” - based on collected and analysed experience - how an optimal production step needs to be performed under the given circumstances and with a view to the product.
Machine networking enables easy communication between machines as well as with the product, the goal being to exchange information about the next manufacturing step. In addition, we see a higher level that recognises the overall system and keeps an overview of things.
The transparency of the work processes enables status queries at any time and explains the reasons for decisions. The aim is to record the mostly unstructured measurement and analysis data from machines and to aggregate them into an understandable form. We call this a semantic form.
What does the future look like?
Flexible production only produces goods that have been ordered. In the future, it will be similar to an online marketplace. Smart machines are equipped with simple intelligence, they can offer their services and make decisions. They use AI techniques to e.g. check product quality directly within the production module or on an FTS. A higher-level system is used that tackles both big and small problems and in which bots, i.e. small software programs, handle the machine, the product and the logistics.
In the smart factory, the individual product autonomously finds its way through the manufacturing process. Batch size 1 guarantees resource conservation and market-adjusted production. The orchestrating overall system and the independent and autonomous work units are capable of learning and continuously optimise processes and their production methods. Keywords such as cooperativity, resource adaptation, self-learning, decision-making or explanatory skills become a matter of course.
What role do people play?
At Production Level 4, we also see that fully automated production modules in the factory halls will gradually take over routine work and repetitive activities from people. However, robotics quickly reaches its limits in the field of mechanical activity, and hence the flexible adaptation of workplaces to new products demands human agility.
In the future, people will concentrate on their strengths in the factory: complex workflows, strategic decisions and, in particular, the pursuit of continuous improvement are all reserved for humans and their unique skills. Autonomy means that work units increase their (technical) versatility, are more flexible, communicate, and can make certain decisions independently. Humans always remain sovereign, bear responsibility, and can intervene at any time.