Smart factory technology
As part of corporate research efforts at B&R Industrial Automation we worked on different aspects of smart factory technology. The overall theme is that we require certain technological prerequisites to address the needs of future production of goods within discrete industrial automation, such as batch size one production, mass customization or quick product changeovers.
Flexible transport system
We developed the novel type of transport system ACOPOStrak from proof of concept to product release. It is a transport system that belongs to the class of track technologies but differs from the previous state of the art in a fundamental aspect: Fully electromagnetic diverters realized by arranging tracks in a diverging double-comb arrangement.
A modular transport system with a non-trivial topology of the workspace (green dashed) for shuttles (blue) spanned by motor modules (gray) that can realize diverters through double comb arrangements.
It provides flexibility on multiple dimensions and is in a certain sense a multi-paradigm mechatronic system:
It comprises long-stator linear motor modules of different geometries that can provide a high degree of freedom in designing the transport network and supports complex material flow topologies.
The shuttles are essentially like servo drives and they can be controlled like this. However, multiple shuttles can cooperate in different ways: They may apply manufacturing steps during the transport from one machine to another. Or they can be mechanically coupled in a way to form a kinematic structure and therefore effectively constitute robots.
The underlying system software provides collision avoidance for the shuttle’s motion control. It performs logistic tasks like finding the shortest routes within the given topology. That is, the application engineer does not need to cope with diverging and converging shuttle flows.
It provides a way of programming process steps in working areas in a shuttle agnostic way. This way you can, during runtime, change the number of shuttles, and the process-oriented code would not need to know.
We have filed a number of patents on this technology. See here for my list of patents. For more information on ACOPOStrak I refer to the product site and YouTube. Also there are slides from a product presentation online.
Orchestration of discrete production
In a different project, we have worked on a system that would allow for quick and automated product changeovers in production lines. This system would accept a description of how productions are synthesized (construction plan) and a description of the machines and their capabilities. The machines are interconnected in a material flow network. The system would then automatically plan and distribute the construction steps.
We have also filed patents on this technology. See here for my list of patents.