• Software agents for maximum flexibility
  • Sustainability and data security as a location advantage

A real game changer – skill-based production blurs the boundaries between IT and OT. The future promises intelligent software agents, freely configurable manufacturing networks, and autonomous decision making capabilities.
Individually configurable production architecture
In the future, software agents will perform a wide range of tasks in production networks. They encapsulate complex, industrial automation technologies into skills (machine capabilities) and are able to communicate them externally. Other software agents then use this information, for example, to build individual production architectures. “Our Production Level 4 vision offers these skills for rent on various platforms,” said Prof. Martin Ruskowski, Chairman of the Executive Board of SmartFactoryKL. “In PL4, software agents come into consideration for various tasks. They can select the best possible machines for the job, conclude contracts with them, exchange encrypted product data, or direct them from one manufacturing step to the next.” The skill-based approach assumes that every asset can describe itself via its asset administration shell (AAS) and is ‘ready to work’ within the network.” It is interoperable and supports technological diversity. “The skill describes individual capabilities, it says nothing about the subsequent technological implementation,” said Ruskowski. “In practice, the skill can be implemented by any manufacturer. The concept of skill-based production is one of resilient manufacturing, as different suppliers are able to perform the task.”
The autonomous robots
Magnus Volkmann studied skill-based production under Prof. Ruskowski: Using a CAD program, he draws a compartment in a brick-shaped block of plastic. Next to it, he positions four holes and specifies their depth. One click on the search icon and machines suitable for the task appear on the display, including information about production time, CO2 emissions, costs, and energy consumption. A software agent in the background had mapped Volkmann’s design in the equipment park and identified the appropriate machines. “At present, I still have to select the machine that will work for me. In the future, it will be automated,” said Volkmann. “Our robot is programed to decide on the best tool based on the technical parameters.” In this case, a milling machine for the compartment and the right drill for the holes are chosen. “This is a game changer. Our software agents help to eliminate unproductive setup time,” said Ruskowski.
Sustainability and data security as a location advantage
“In our Production Level 4 vision, while searching for the ideal production machines, even parameters like resource conservation or energy efficiency can be specified,” said Ruskowski. “Sustainability becomes a competitive advantage.” Ideally, the entire product history is contained in the administrative shell. This so-called life cycle file helps to achieve the best possible recycling, which is only possible when all ingredients and their processing are known. “It is even conceivable that components that are still working can be removed from the product and rebuilt into another product,” said Ruskowski. “That is what we consider the economic aspect of sustainability.”
In the future, the question of data security will be crucial. Skill-based production implies an exchange of documentation, product features, and machine data. This is where the GAIA-X European data platform becomes essential. PL4 operates in accordance with European data protection guidelines, which define exactly who owns what data and how it can be securely sent and managed. “We are working in the smartMA-X research project to define how and under what rules companies will be able to work in Gaia-X,” said Ruskowski. “Data security is a top priority.” A company’s trust in the network security is what will ultimately determine if skill-based production becomes a reality.
The technical feasibility of it has been proven in Kaiserslautern.


Interesting links

Video of a skill-based use case: https://youtu.be/

Expert talk: “Skill-based production – the production architecture of the future?” https://youtu.be/

Expert talk: “The administrative shell – the key enabling technology at smart factory” https://youtu.be

Look for us at the Hannover Messe 2022 in Hall 8, Stand D 18.

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