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Monitoring manufacturing processes to optimise productivity and energy consumption

Fraunhofer-Institut Fuer Angewandte Informationstechnik (FIT) : 23 March, 2013  (Special Report)
Saving energy is becoming ever more important for manufacturing companies. One prerequisite is to capture machine energy consumption for each step in the production process. This can be achieved with a monitoring system developed by Fraunhofer FIT that, due to its service-oriented architecture and its ability to use heterogeneous sensors, can easily be integrated in existing facilities.

Most manufacturing companies have by now taken the 'easy' steps to optimize energy consumption, such as replacing old, machines by more energy-efficient ones. Pneumatic drives are another example: here, improvements that are relatively easy to implement lead to energy savings of 10% or more.

Beyond that, potential efficiency improvements in manufacturing can be realised only if the production as a whole is examined from a process-oriented perspective. For this problem Fraunhofer FIT has developed a software platform which makes it easy to link up existing devices and sensors; additional measuring technology can be integrated efficiently, and it can be extended flexibly.

Firstly, a manufacturing process is represented in a BPMN process model. The machines and sensors involved in a particular process step, and what identifies its start and end, are defined. This makes it possible to capture the data separately for each process step and optimally adjusted to the task at hand.

The data is aggregated as required and sent to existing IT business systems like an ERP or a MES. This makes it possible to optimise manufacturing processes or to identify machines that are not optimally utilised. In the acquisition process, the data is analysed to identify situations that require immediate action.

"It is a real challenge to integrate the in a coherent system, the plethora of devices involved, coming from many different manufacturers and using diverse communication protocols and interfaces; and to make the massive amounts of data they generate usable in a company's business IT systems. With our software platform, this can be done," says Dr Markus Eisenhauer, head of Fraunhofer FIT's department User-Centered Computing.

The system offers a broad range of potential applications. In addition to sensors, it can integrate actuators that, depending on the data just measured, trigger specific changes in the manufacturing process. As an example, the system could send a message when a sensor detects vibrations that may indicate an impending breakdown of a machine. This message might be displayed on a mobile device of the worker(s) responsible for this particular machine or it might be sent to a control room. In combination with business IT systems or specialized analysis software, our monitoring system makes manufacturing processes transparent and helps identify areas for further optimization that were not visible before.

* FIT is demonstrating this system at Hannover Messe, 8 to 12 April 2013, using a production line in the automobile industry as an example.

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