The vision of “Engineering to Zero” plays a crucial role in the future of automation because it’s the only way to ensure the flexibility and sustainability that manufacturing businesses urgently need. But what does that mean, and what’s in it for you?
Our world is growing more and more customized, influenced partly by the Internet and social media: Want to design and order your own pair of shoes online? Not a problem – just a few clicks and the product you want can be put together quickly and delivered in no time at all. But one thing that we as consumers often don’t realize is that the number of different versions this involves creates major challenges for industrial production worldwide.
Time for a paradigm shift
Producing customized versions while also accommodating shorter and shorter product lifecycles as part of their production process means businesses have to manage increasingly complex demands. The sheer extent of customization also requires businesses to be able to make their products in a wide range of varieties because the very nature of twenty-first-century production involves multiple versions of any given product, which must be developed and produced in super-fast time. Highly customized products are also posing big challenges for businesses because end customers are already functioning to some degree as product designers.
One thing is clear: Businesses that have previously been market leaders in their field with their proven machinery and production processes now have to re-think their production from scratch to respond to the challenge from new competitors with innovative ideas. Production needs to be more flexible to manage the current challenges. This calls for a paradigm shift: New products and solutions are needed for production automation and engineering in order to manufacture a changing array of products in varying batch sizes quickly and resource-efficiently – all without having to adjust the production line with each changeover.
To support our customers, we’re constantly working on new and innovative approaches here at Siemens. For this particular challenge, we’ve developed a two-part solution: The cloud-based SIMATIC Autonomous production engineer and the SIMATIC Autonomous production dispatcher. This combination of two products allows production planning to be flexibly adapted to specific product requirements, while increasing flexibility in production and keeping the time and effort needed for engineering as low as possible.
Simple engineering and optimized production workflow
The foundation for the vision of Engineering to Zero is autonomous machines like automated guided vehicle systems and autonomous robots; the objective is to incorporate them into production more easily and optimize the production workflow. The first step involves assigning “skills” to the autonomous machines that provide a semantic description of their abilities in the production environment (including their characteristics, limitations, and dependencies). The SIMATIC Autonomous production engineer was created to generate these skills easily and assign them to machines. The new SIMATIC Autonomous production engineer is intended to make it very easy for automation specialists and production planners in particular, as well as individuals with limited prior knowledge about performing this task.
Once the skills have been assigned to every machine, the SIMATIC Autonomous production dispatcher takes over the task of directing the autonomous machines in the production system by establishing an ideal workflow that puts the required production stages into action – and this ensures greater productivity.
Rapid producibility check
When a business receives a production order for a new product, the necessary production stages for its manufacture are always recorded. The customer can use the Producibility Check to determine whether the machines required for these production stages are present and available because specific skills are assigned to the machines via the SIMATIC Autonomous production engineer. During the production engineering phase, this review quickly reveals whether or not a product or variant can currently be manufactured. It’s also possible to establish what skills the existing machines still need to manufacture the desired product.
Businesses can use the Producibility Check either offline, to determine whether the existing machinery is capable of manufacturing a new product, or online, to use real-time data to determine whether the available machines can actually manufacture the new product right now with the materials on hand.
These two new solutions offer manufacturing businesses the advantage they need to structure their production efficiently and strengthen their market position. They can manufacture sustainably and resource-efficiently because the system’s flexibility means they can manufacture only what they need. And by orchestrating their machines, our customers can achieve high levels of both productivity and flexibility. These two solutions also make the engineering as easy as it can possibly be – it practically takes care of itself – so it’s accessible to both qualified and less-qualified employees. These benefits ensure that our customers are perfectly equipped for the manufacturing of the future.
This is all very good in theory, but what about practice? Watch for my next blog, when I’ll show where our solutions are already being used and what can be achieved with them.