This year’s Irish Manufacturing Research members’ international trip was planned to give members the opportunity to see various aspects of Industry 4.0 in action, and to hear a German perspective on what they describe as “this aspirational future state”. Munich and Stuttgart are known globally for hosting the headquarters of BMW and Daimler respectively, but these cities and their surrounding areas are a hotbed of high-tech engineering companies and a fertile ground for thousands of exciting SME’s within a strongly supportive innovation environment underpinned by a number of Fraunhofer Centres.
Day 1 – Stuttgart
Our first visit was to Festo’s Scharnhausen Technology Plant, the company’s flagship plant in terms of incorporation of digital technologies and sustainable production applied to valve, valve terminal and electronics manufacture. Festo invests an impressive 8% sales in R&D and this clearly shows in the Technology Plant with maximum data capture and key decision-making data brought from the Cloud to “Edge of Plant”, where digital twins are available to simulate potential machine use changes before implementation, making for enhanced flexibility with order lead times often less than a week.
In contrast, our next visit was to the centre of Mechatronik, which pulls together a cluster of like-minded SME’s focusing on products/processes developed from mechanics, electronics and computer science – helping each other with the challenges of Industry 4.0 implementation. We heard inspiring stories from two cluster companies and also a very positive assessment from a State Minister on the value of clusters like this one to the State economy.
Our early evening was spent on a fascinating guided tour of the Mercedes-Benz Museum, and with the commentary considerately pitched for a group of manufacturing professionals we learnt a lot.
Day 2 – Stuggart to Munich via Augsburg
The second day started at the Fraunhofer IPA one of the centres in the group focused completely on production technologies, and here we were able to see the power of the RTO model that IMR is implementing in an organisation that has, in contrast, been operating for about 70 years. This centre’s focus is on mass sustainability, mass customisation and biomechatronics, and our visits focused on the latter alongside digital tools in production and in hospitals.
We then headed towards Munich, stopping off first at KUKA Robotics in Augsburg. Here we saw cutting edge robotics technologies developed with the digital technologies to achieve multiple robots working in the same space and/or together with humans (cobotics). It seemed appropriate to see robots being manufactured by cutting edge robotic systems!
Day 3 – Munich
Our final day started at the GE Additive Customer Experience Centre in Munich. It is significant that GE has created this new business (GE Additive) entirely from acquisitions because they saw the technology as strategic going forward and thus a missing piece of their earlier portfolio. We saw a wide range of applications of additive manufacturing, opening our eyes to the potential afforded by the technology.
We then went on to the IBM Watson IoT Centre, where IBM has set out to create an advanced centre to explore applications of Artificial Intelligence and Internet of Things (IoT) technologies. We were shown the facilities available to companies and also walked through some case studies of work already done with clients – again opening our eyes to what is possible using these technologies. The final visit of the trip, to Accenture, was also about helping us spark new ideas at the IoT / engineering interface.
Overall the programme was of great value to the whole group, who owe many thanks to Andrew, Louise and Aisling for conceiving the programme and then putting together and executing the complex logistics.