- January 30, 2015
- Festo Corporation
At Hannover Fair, Festo will demonstrate developments in the OPAK Industry 4.0 research project subsidized by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy
January 30, 2015 - Engineering processes are to be carried out more intuitively, faster and more efficiently in future, and the individual automation components will have a digital memory: these are the aims pursued by Festo together with partners from science and industry in the joint research project “OPAK” (open engineering platform for autonomous mechatronic automation components in a function-oriented architecture).
Production facilities are becoming more and more complex, with increased effort required for their planning and commissioning. In the “OPAK” research project subsidised by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy, Festo and further partner companies are endeavouring to make this complexity controllable. Dr. Volker Nestle, Head of Future Technologies at Festo, explains: “We are dealing with two topics in this project: on the one hand we are simplifying the engineering process and making it much more efficient; and on the other hand, we are developing components that have a digital memory – the first step along the road to intelligent components for Industry 4.0.”
Simple engineering processes
To make the engineering process more intuitive and efficient, a virtual emulation of the production plant is generated in “OPAK”. This allows all processes and functions to be simulated and tested by means of the engineering software already at the planning stage – even before the facility is actually built. The developer then only devises the desired automation processes, without having to deal with abstract commands in the programming of control units. The engineering system carries out a plausibility check during the planning phase, so that right from the start only components and configurations can be selected that are technically feasible and appropriate. “The developer can therefore concentrate on the actual automation task and its solution. The detailed steps for the technical implementation are carried out in the background,” Volker Nestle explains.
Components with a digital memory
As a requirement for generating a virtual emulation of a production plant, the components must already incorporate all information needed for operation in their integrated controllers. In combination with adaptable interfaces that reduce the requirements for assembly, configuration and system integration to a minimum, the components are therey made suitable for “plug and produce” applications: like USB interfaces in computer systems that allow connected systems to autonomously register with the host computer and communicate with it, in the factory of the future even individual components will be able to register with the production plant.
The first outcomes of the “OPAK” project include the prototype of an integrated stopper module. This combines in one single component both the necessary actuators and the sensors and control elements for stopping workpiece carriers on a conveyor belt. The function of the stopper module is made available to further systems via a standardised interface.
A demonstration system for practical research
To show what a production plant of the future can look like and how it incorporates the findings from “OPAK”, the project partners have built an exemplary industry cell; this will be presented at the Hannover Messe. Visitors can see there how a flexible system can operate in the factory of the future – from the engineering up to commissioning and regular production.
What is currently still being investigated and implemented on a small scale will be able to be transferred to the entire factory in the future, explains Volker Nestle: “The vision behind the “OPAK” project is a production plant that exists in its entirety as a virtual emulation.” Individual components or parts of the facility can therefore be modified or exchanged very simply, since all the processes can be virtually tested before becoming physical reality. Downtimes are thereby reduced to a minimum, and the production can be flexibly adapted to changing conditions.”
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