The ScalABLE4.0 project implementation as come to an end this year. Despite the covid-19 outbreak, the consortium was able to conclude the project without reducing significantly the initial goals of the project. Below you can find a summary of the project or download it here.
Plant managers and engineers struggle to adjust the level of automation of production lines to product variations and market demand. Especially when robots are involved, updates are slow, complex and cost-intensive, and the loss of productivity is considerable due to a stopped manufacturing line. The most common solution is to keep the level of automation deliberately low to guarantee the fast updatability of the system. Another solution is to simply design the manufacturing lines from the start for the maximum estimated customer demand, but this means high initial investment and low equipment utilization during large parts of the product cycle and a huge difficulty to change the product. Both solutions are expensive and inefficient.
The main objective of the ScalABLE4.0 project was the development and demonstration of an open scalable production system (OSPS) framework that can be used efficiently and effectively to visualize, virtualize, construct, control, maintain and optimize production lines. This Framework aims to provide this through a) a tight integration of the enterprise information systems with transformable automation equipment paired up with b) the necessary open APIs for optimized solutions on all hierarchy levels. The development of this OSPS framework is an answer to the growing demand of manufacturing companies to have efficient tools enabling them to optimize the organization of their production lines ‘on the fly’ and that have approached members of the consortium over the past few years.
The outcome of the scalable automation concept brings a new level of adaptability and scalability to manufacturing lines by tightly integrating advanced robotics and sensing equipment with a digital twin of the manufacturing plant that glues the enterprise IT tools (Manufacturing Execution System (MES), into a single cyber-physical system that is able to:
(1) update the manufacturing line to customer demand and product updates with automation equipment is much quicker;
(2) shorten setup-time of manufacturing lines so that smaller lot-sizes with high automation become affordable;
(3) support optimizing line parameters such as speed, throughput and manual vs. automation ratio;
(4) allow progressive and modular investment of new production lines (progressive ramp-up).
The use of collaborative robot has great potentials but their deployment (programming and networking) and difficult integration in the overall production systems are still obstacles to a broader adoption. The ScalABLE4.0 project addressed these problems with a dual bottom-up and top-down approach, promoting the co-development of skill-based flexible robotic systems with enterprise IT tools (such as MES or Advanced Simulation tools) sharing a common integrated digital model of the manufacturing plant.
The project implementation was driven by two use cases associated to two automotive manufacturing companies, Groupe PSA and Simoldes Plásticos, which have different production realities: the shop-floor of PSA is over-automated, whereas at Simoldes it is under-automated. Pilot demonstrators were implemented for each use case in order to validate the project results.
The ScalABLE4.0 results comprise different technology areas:
Plug-n-Produce technologies: Nowadays, the costs associated to the integration of robotic systems are quite high due to the incompatibility of the variety of communication interfaces used, commonly proprietary. Within the scope of the project, some technologies were developed to provide an efficient functional integration, meeting the paradigms of Industry 4.0. The ROS-CODESYS bridge is an example of one plug-and-produce solution developed during the project.
Scalable, flexible and collaborative robotics: Traditional industrial robots are restricted to fixed solutions, almost unadaptable to new tasks, and do not allow the close collaboration with human operators. The project results combine recent innovations in collaborative robotics with flexible, intuitive programming methodologies and integrated with the production system, in order to maximize the adaptability and performance of the global system. The main achievements associated to this topic follows:
(1) Design and development of a modular ScalABLE4.0 robot, capable of operating in both use cases and in-depth analysis of available hardware solutions for the integration of the ScalABLE4.0 robot, including grippers, collaborative robots and sensors. Three prototypes were assembled (Figure 1), one autonomous (for PSA use-case) and two movable (for SP use case);
(2) Development of platforms, such as SkiROS, to allow a fast re-configuration of the robot tasks using robot-skill based programming tools;
(3) Development of robot sensing system for each use case. According to the requirements of each use case, different perception system were developed to deal with the variability about the positioning of the robotic platforms and the parts in the production line. These systems allowed the robot to perform either simple tasks, such as pick-and-place tasks (PSA and SP use case), or to perform more complex assembly operations, such as the piston insertion in the engine (PSA use case);
Vertical Integration Mechanisms: The contemporary state of vertical systems’ integration in the European industrial environment is aligned with the proposed automation pyramid associated with the beginning of the millennium. In order to integrate industrial equipment and robotic systems that are more and more advanced, and that generate larger volumes of data, solutions such as the Internet of Things (IoT) were considered as enhancers of the Factory of the Future. A solution from one of the partners was used as the main integration layer, the Manufacturing Service Bus (MSB from Fraunhofer), in order to ease the communication and to allow the integration between all the ScalABLE4.0 components.
Simulation and Decision Support tools: During the project, innovations in the development of Simulation and Decision Support tools have enabled the different players in the production process to extract knowledge and infer different scenarios in a more efficient and robust way, through a symbiosis between the production systems and commercial simulation tools for robots and production lines. These tools were used to support the decision-making processes related to the production line layout and assignment of production orders;
Advanced Digital Twin Model: The Advanced Plant Model (APM) is a technology developed by INESC TEC that combines all technology innovations in a unified model, which represents geometric, semantic and functional information related to the production environment. During the project, using the APM, a digital model of each pilot demonstrator was designed and implemented, providing a unified data model for the ScalABLE4.0 ecosystem. The APM was fully integrated with the remaining high-level software used, such as the Simulation and Decision support tools and the Manufacturing Execution System, which was capable of dealing with highly flexible production resources such as the ScalABLE4.0 robot;
Overall, the solutions developed during the project will contribute to (1) efficiently plan the production according to the available resources and the production demand; (2) increase the product customization; (3) reduce the available stock of the products. In terms of employment, they will contribute to (4) reduce the low added value tasks assigned to human resources, which are repetitive and mostly subject the operators to non-ergonomic positions, by implementing collaborative robots and mobile robots to help them; (5) create high added value jobs related with robotics and software engineering and robot manufacturing by specializing people to use and implement the different solutions into the factory and shop-floor.
VALIDATION IN PILOTS
As stated before, the project implementation was driven by two use cases: one for PSA and another for SP. The pilot line installed at the Factory of the Future at Lorraine (FFLOR) for the assembly of gasoline and diesel motor variants (Figure 2) was used as the demonstrator for the PSA use case. The demonstrator of the SP use case, was the multi-product line envisioned and implemented at Plastaze (from Simoldes Group) during the project (Figure 3). Additionally, for the SP use case, a replica of this line (Figure 4) was also assembled at iiLab (INESC TEC’s industry and innovation lab) for further testing, since the shop-floor was not always available for the consortium.
The validation of the project results was performed iteratively through the test sprint approach. The consortium planned 4 test sprint and by the third, partners were already integrating all ScalABLE4.0 components, including the ScalABLE4.0 robot, at PSA pilot line and at the SP line replica. In addition, by the third test sprint, the ScalABLE4.0 robot was implemented and tested at the multi-product line at Plastaze. The following video shows the robot working on the line: https://youtu.be/-RKdsaOq-58;
For the last test sprint, the plan was to improve both demonstrations, including the integration of all the ScalABLE4.0 components at the multi-product line of SP, but due to the covid-19 outbreak, the consortium had to adapt the final tests to laboratorial setups. In the case of SP, the final tests were easily adapted for the line replica at iiLab, where a second robot was implemented. In the case of PSA, two scenarios were outlined, one to improve the robustness of the perception system by using the dual-arm setup shown in Figure 5 (https://youtu.be/KOeE55GHQhY) and other to improve the ScalABLE4.0 robot autonomous navigation system (https://youtu.be/ycqsQtlWvcw).
The complete integration of all ScalABLE4.0 components (from the physical line to the simulation for decision making support) at the Simoldes Plásticos line replica (Figure 4) performed during the final tests is detailed in the following video: https://youtu.be/Lr2DNEX2ZSo.
Implementation of ScalABLE4.0 results at a real production line
The implementation of the multi-product line at Plastaze with one ScalABLE4.0 robot constituted a significant advance in the productive reality of Simoldes Plásticos Group. This implementation already created a positive impact in their production and was a proof-of-concept to start the change of their production paradigm, which might be extended to other lines and factories. In this case, with the transition to the multi-product production line, the direct and indirect works needed were reduced to 75% and 20%, respectively. This way, the human operators can be assigned to tasks with higher added value.
For Simoldes, the introduction of this type of technological advances means that the company is equipped with innovative tools and productive capacities, promoting the training of its workers to have the knowledge of working with new technologies, contributing to Simoldes to continue its path of continuous improvement and progress.
Creation of a Spin-off: RIACT
AAU along with ULUND created the spin-off RiACT (Robots in Action). In more detail, RiACT provides a robot control platform for agile production systems, giving professionals the ability to program different robot brands and other devices with the same, intuitive interface. Robot integrators still struggle to install complicated production lines, due to a number of factors: (i) lack of standardization forcing to specialize in few robot brands, (ii) low code reuse, forcing to start from scratch when developing new solutions for manufacturers, and (iii) static solutions, making complicated to change the tiniest things after deployment. RiACT’s purpose is to develop a platform to help professionals programming agile production lines, faster. Users can program behaviors by connecting skills in behavior trees – like playing with Lego bricks. The behavior tree execution system allows robots to react, perform multiple tasks and adapt to changing environments, thereby transforms static robots into reliable, dynamic production resources. The system gets independent from specific hardware and can be deployed with any supported robot brand or device
RiACT is now developing fundamental features for commercialization supported by other fundings, such as Innovationsfonden and Wallenberg Foundation.
Industrialization of ScalABLE4.0 results: ScalABLE4.0 robot and ROS-CODESYS Bridge
(1) The implementation of this project also allowed one of the SMEs of the consortium, Sarkkis robotics, to launch a new product, the ScalABLE4.0 robot, a modular platform constituted by two modules, the mobility and the execution. The mobility module can have the traction unit if it is to be autonomous (AGV). The execution module can be different depending on: the robot controller (different height), the operations to perform (can have or not sensors, tool changer station or even specific places for boxes, for example) and the type of platform (in the autonomous will not have the bar for the human to push). At the moment, Sarkkis is working on the industrialization process of the robot to further exploit it.
(2) The ROS-CODESYS bridge, a plug-and-produce solution, which started to be developed during the ScalABLE4.0 project, received further funding by the ROSIN FTP mechanism to be industrialized. The need to develop an industrialized version was raised due to the increasing demand from several entities from the outside of the consortium to use the bridge.
(3) Simoldes Plásticos is significantly pushing forward for the fast industrialization of the platform. Even in this pandemic situation, significant steps are made towards the industrialization of the existing robotic systems, with long term production tests. The finalization of the industrialization and the approval for the use of the system group wide is expected for the 1T 2021.
The last period of the ScalABLE4.0 project evolved in unique circumstances, with the arrival of the COVID-19 global pandemic. This unfortunate event triggered severe changes in the every human activity and made clear the role of scalable and flexible automation solutions in the modern industrial activities. Taking the Simoldes Plásticos example, that during the acute stages of the pandemic event was faced with drastic changes in their production. On one hand, Simoldes Plásticos switched from producing parts for the Automotive sector to produce equipment of individual protections (visors) and on the other faced severe operator shortage both from the prophylactic isolation and the required distance measure in the shop floor. In the Simoldes Plásticos own words, this event was a crash course on the future challenges that their production structure will face, such as increasing production variability and shortage of available human labour, and highlighted the need for the flexible production systems such as the ones developed within ScalABLE4.0.
In terms of project implementation, the outlined test sprint approach, to test the developments, played a central role in the consolidation of work and on the iterative feedback from the end-users. Thus, the consortium will consider using this approach in future projects, since it was crucial to achieve the proposed results. The successful implementation of the test sprint in this project also allowed us to deal with the covid-19 pandemic without delaying the end of the project, since the main results were achieved in the third (out of 4) test sprint.
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