FleXible Production Experts for reconfigurable aSSembly technology

Project Director: Prof. Dr. Norbert Link

Funded by: EU

Duration: 01.01.07 - 31.12.10

The goal of XPRESS is to establish a breakthrough for the factory of the future with a new flexible production concept. This concept is based on the generic idea of “specialised intelligent process units” (“Expertons”) which are integrated in cross-sectoral learning networks for a customised production.

Expertons are a combination of different classical hardware and software components of assembly processes like robots or human controlled machines with an advanced knowledge system. This gives them the intelligence to choose the best known production parameters for a given task. As a result Assembly units composed of Expertons can flexibly perform varying types of complex tasks, whereas today this is limited to a few pre-defined tasks.

By sharing the specific knowledge of each Experton in a network, Expertons are able to learn from each other in one production line. Moreover this enables,learning between different lines as well as different production units. As a consequence this architecture allows continuous process improvement.

With this concept, XPRESS meets the challenge to integrate intelligence and flexibility at the “highest” level of the production control system as well as at the “lowest” level of the singular machine.

With the XPRESS Expertons, manufacturers will be able to anticipate and to respond to rapidly changing consumer needs by offering high-quality products in adequate quantities at reduced costs.

The feasibility of the concept will be demonstrated in the automotive, aeronautics and electrical industry but it can be transferred to nearly all production processes.

Within three Work Sections, the following major objectives are envisaged:

1. Production Configuration and Simulation:

Decrease of ramp-up time for the set-up of production lines up to 50%, by providing a high performance simulation tool with a dynamic self-learning environment and a modular structure

Optimisation up to 10% of the product cycle time of existing production lines through reverse engineering

Flexible reaction on process disturbances and bottle-neck identification

2. Experton guided Production flow

Decrease of changeover time up to 80%

Flexible reaction to unexpected production volumes in case of manual production tasks

Up to 100% reusability of assembly equipment

3. Expertonic Machines and Human Integration

Reducing the effort needed for setting up the individual basic handling, fixation, joining and transport processes,

Providing different quality assurance systems for these processes,

Reacting intelligently on disturbances and

Providing a factory-wide process monitoring system.

The first project year was dedicated to the definition of the main concepts of the Experton Framework. Several specifications have been worked out for the design of the Production Expertons, the embedding of real-time techniques, access to knowledge bases etc. Furthermore, different already existing technologies have been proven suitable for the Experton communication and Expertons knowledge bases. Great effort has been made in the field of human integration. Video tracking software and hardware have been developed, and different quality monitoring methods for the precision monitoring of the workers tool position (by the usage of Hidden Markov Models and knn-Analysis) have been investigated. A first functional sample of the worker integration for the video tracking of a welding gun has been presented in the 1st Year Partners Meeting.

The XPRESS technology may be implemented in already existing manufacturing lines. Thus it will offer enterprises the opportunity to move towards flexible production with all the benefits named above without having to build a completely new production line. In order to support a wider up-take, the XPRESS technologies will be standardised. This will pave the way to the establishment of Expertonic networked factories. Besides the connected economic advantages, human integration will improve the safety of the working staff while ate the same time opening up new employment opportunities. While the 100% quality control will allow reducing waste and energy consumption, it is a major step towards high quality customised production.

A dedicated website and press releases inform the interested public about XPRESS. Scientific and technological results will be disseminated on conferences and fairs and in publications. In total three public status colloquia will be held during conferences. For researchers, end-users and clients training activities with respect to the XPRESS technologies are foreseen at the end of the project.

The XPRESS consortium consists of 17 partners from 9 European countries, including companies, research institutes and universities. Six of the ten companies are SMEs. The overall budget of express is about 13 Mio. €.