Fraunhofer IPA, Germany - IFR R&D member
ARENA2036: Creating the Automobile Production of the Future
ARENA2036 is a research campus in Stuttgart where partners from industry and research institutions investigate and demonstrate the future of automobile manufacturing. Up until now, the core of automotive manufacturing processes is the assembly line, whereas future production systems will ask for more agile and transformable manufacturing systems with reduced dependency from conveyor belts and fixed cycle times. Advanced robotics and autonomous guided vehicles will play a crucial role in these future concepts. Part of the ARENA2036 campus is the "research factory", coordinated by the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA, which bundles research activities and implements them in practice. Flexible and changeable robots that allow close cooperation with the worker are one of the key-enablers of changeable production.
ARENA2036 is a public private partnership and stands for "Active Research Environment for the Next Generation of Automobiles". It is a completely new type of cooperation between research institutions and industry. The project aims to redefine automobile development and production along the entire value chain so that the sustainable and resource-efficient production of small lot sizes to the costs of mass production becomes feasible. Furthermore, the research factory will present a main use case of future Industry 4.0 and thus demonstrate the efficiency and flexibility of a completely digitalized "smart factory".
The research campus was founded in 2013. First consortium members were among others the University of Stuttgart, Fraunhofer IPA, Daimler and Bosch. Currently, a new appropriate building with a total project area of 7000 sq. m for running a research factory and office space for hosting over 100 engineers and scientists is mostly finished and will be officially inaugurated by spring 2017.
The production of the future, which is the objective of the "research factory", is just one part of ARENA2036. Starting with the simulation of the car model, the applied materials and the manufacturing as a digital prototype, this computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) fastens the building of fewer prototypes and reduces defective goods as well as development loops. Thanks to a new composition of materials like carbon fiber, high-strength steel and composites automobiles will weigh less than today. This is also due to function-integrated lightweight constructions: Work pieces like sensors and harnesses will already be installed in the components in order to reduce time and cost for the assembly. New propulsion concepts like hybrid solutions with combustion engines, fuel cells or pure electrical vehicles will also be considered.
One of ARENA's aims is to develop and implement agile production systems. Today's markets become more and more volatile. This means for example shorter product life cycle times and more personalized products. In order to maintain their competitiveness, companies must be able to compensate these fluctuating demands efficiently. This gets evident when a new car model enters the market and the demand is extremely high or when the demand for an expiring model decreases: this often leads to supply shortages or overcapacity and hence lost profit.
New materials and new drive train concepts pose new requirements on the manufacturing plants. The main problem here is that the future market demand cannot be predicted. As shown by research into flexible manufacturing systems (FMS) engineering, a high level of flexibility into the manufacturing system usually does not pay off in the end. If modifications are necessary after commissioning, this risks high costs or even a complete new construction. In contrast to this, agile production systems can easily and quickly be adapted to the market needs of changing lot sizes and different production technologies.
For being able to reduce the dependence on manufacturing lines in ARENA2036, autonomous guided vehicles (AGV) will transport the components and chassis from work station to work station. The AGV acts as cyber physical system in an Industry-4.0-scenario, connected to all other components of the fully digitalized assembly line. This flexible chain of assembly stations allows that every model variant follows its optimized and specific path through the manufacturing shop floor. If a new model variant appears and shall be manufactured, new assembly stations can easily be integrated. Also, modern cars feature more and more capabilities for autonomous driving. In the final assembly, these autonomous-driving capabilities might even be used for moving from work station to work station hence further reducing the need for manufacturing equipment.
Human-Robot-Cooperation (HRC) is an enabler for agile production systems. It allows combining traditional robot capabilities such as stamina, high payload and precision with the dexterity, cognitive capabilities and creativity of humans. Fraunhofer IPA is currently developing an assembly station that allows HRC for the assembly of a car door module. The worker executes tasks for which sensitivity and complex motion sequences are necessary, like the fitting and clipping of harness connectors or the complex joining trajectory of the door handle. The robot relieves the worker by undertaking monotonous and simple working steps, e. g. the insertion and the screwing of the module and the body shell.
The assembly station can easily be adapted in accordance to the number of orders, the needed portfolio of variants and technologies as well as the individual customer requirements. The free movability and configuration of all components of the assembly station allow its versatility. AGVs transport all components to the station. The lightweight robot can use different tools like vacuum grippers or screw drivers depending on the corresponding work tasks. Besides the free positioning on the shop floor the stations can be composed according to the customers' demands. Depending on the workload, the assembly stations are scalable: If lot sizes are small, workers can do the assembly manually or are supported by robots for the monotonous tasks. Given medium lot sizes, the tasks can be shared between worker and robot for real human robot collaboration. And if high lot sizes have to be produced, a parallel assembly line can be opened that is served from worker and robot either simultaneously or at staggered intervals. The representation of this sliding automation degree is another research objective of the "research factory" which is driven by all the partners in ARENA2036.
Fraunhofer IPA has wide experience in the conception and planning of agile production systems not only within the context of ARENA2036. The institute works regularly together with system integrators to realize complex automation solutions. Companies from SME to large multinational enterprises can benefit in various ways from the researcher's expertise: the automation experts analyze existing manufacturing systems in order to improve their efficiency and changeability; they conceive and plan new systems and develop hard- and software components as for example changeable gripping systems which enable an agile production adapted to the specific needs of each customer.