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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 15-Feb-2019
Posted by: Julian Eberling

The digital factory as pioneer for the smart factory of the future


The Digital Factory has been established in the industry for many years. However, in order to be able to process the increasing complexity and multitude of information in the digital factory, new solutions have to be found. Read here what industry 4.0 has to offer in this context.


What exactly does the term "digital factory" mean?

In many areas, the Smart Factory is still more of a vision of the future than reality. Virtual simulation, on the other hand, can make it a digital factory. The term Digital Factory is defined as follows by the Association of German Engineers (VDI):

"The Digital Factory is the generic term for a comprehensive network of digital models, methods and tools - including simulation and three-dimensional visualization - that are integrated through integrated data management. Their goal is the holistic planning, evaluation and continuous improvement of all essential structures, processes and resources of the real factory in connection with the product."

The focus of the Digital Factory is thus on:

  • an improved economic efficiency and planning quality,
  • a shortened product development and introduction,
  • transparent communication,
  • standardized planning processes and
  • competent knowledge management.

Positive effects are a shorter time to market, a reduced number of correction loops and errors in planning as well as the storage of experience-based expert knowledge that no longer leaves the company with the employee.Trend Collection Innovation management


Digital factory as basis for industry 4.0 and Smart Factory

With Industry 4.0, production can be raised to a new level of development through the complete digitization and integration of the industrial value chain. The result of Industry 4.0 is ultimately the smart factory, in which all components - machines, people, tools and resources - are networked and communicate with each other in real time via the Internet. For the implementation of Industry 4.0, however, a digital data basis is required. The digital factory is the supplier of this data basis.

So while the Digital Factory provides tools for planning factories in virtual reality and models, the Smart Factory is also about operating and optimizing the factory in real time. The digital factory must therefore be further developed into a smart factory. In concrete terms, this means that the digital models can also be made real-time and adaptive and can adapt themselves to reality.

With the digital twin, this link between digital models and reality can be achieved. Siemens, for example, is currently developing the "Connected Digital Twin", which takes information from the operating data and the plants, compares it with its status, and then brings the digital model back up to date in the event of deviations in reality. Synchronization on both sides offers great potential for optimization, since the configurations obtained through simulation can be directly implemented on the real product.


Bosch: Higher productivity through step-by-step networking

Through networked production, the Bosch Group expects to achieve cost savings of around one billion euros and additional sales of one billion euros by 2020 (2015 to 2020).

According to Stefan Aßmann, Head of Connected Industry at Bosch, a lot can be achieved in existing plants with the gradual introduction of networking solutions and low investment. For example, the Bosch-Rexroth plant in Homburg, Saarland, Germany, was equipped with a "step-by-step" technology.

The multi-product line can now produce up to 200 different hydraulic modules from 2,000 parts, with nine stations networked in the line. Via an RFID chip, which is networked with the component-specific data in the system, the chips recognize which work steps are necessary and which components have to be assembled and how. Each section finds its own way through the production line and requests the appropriate materials. This is where trained employees come into play, who are shown a photo or film with the necessary assembly steps for the finished product on an interface.

Other employees receive data in real time via the "Active Cockpit" to be able to detect machine malfunctions at an early stage. The analysis includes all relevant production data, such as energy utilization, pressure, vibration and temperature. This change has enabled inventories to be reduced by up to 20 percent within one year and productivity to be increased by ten percent at the same time.


Volkswagen: Digital Factory and Sustainability

The fact that digitization and sustainability can go hand in hand is demonstrated by Volkswagen's holistic Think Blue Factory program. The company has set itself the goal of making production at all locations more ecological by reducing environmental pollution by 25 percent.

The potential of industry 4.0 in this respect depends largely on the degree of networking, says Heinrich Nottbohm, plant manager at VW Motorenwerk Chemnitz. While scientific studies show a potential of 50 percent for development times, development costs and manufacturing costs, VW estimates the potential to be somewhat more moderate, which, however, is also in the double-digit percentage range. In a global view across the entire production network, however, VW expects a significantly higher benefit from networking by increasing the ability to collaborate.

Within the framework of Industry 4.0, Heinrich Nottbohm sees particular potential in the following points: Consistent transparency of consumption (e.g. electricity and water), optimization of monitoring, more efficient use of resources (production process) and more efficient processing (production technology). This can reduce the energy consumption per work operation.

Digitale Fabrik VW

Source: The Digital Factory at Volkswagen


Conclusio: Digital factory on the way to Smart Factory

Many companies have already laid the foundations for the Smart Factory. However, it will take some time and effort to make the fourth industrial revolution a reality. The forecasts are between five and 20 years, depending on who you are talking to and what applications are involved. In particular, the interaction of new technologies with work organization, production systems and software, as well as the ability of factory objects to communicate in real time, represent one of the greatest challenges. The planning systems of the Digital Factory will therefore have to evolve to take advantage of the opportunities created by Industry 4.0.

Innovations of machines / industry 4.0

Julian Eberling

Born in Vienna. Since 2018 "Certified Service Design Thinker" he has been pursuing his passion as Innovation Manager at LEAD Innovation.

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